Switching to Airplane Mode: what I got out of a 20 day digital detox


We’re in the Redwood Forest.

“Did they name it after the song?” my four year old asks.

We’d borrowed a remix of Woody Guthrie music from the library once and This Land is Your Land evidently made an impression.

I come from a country where the indigenous people believe the world was sung into being. 60,000 years of singing, the science now realizes, before the colonizers came and shushed them. So when the kid gets the naming and the singing out of order, I think, Why not? I’ve been off-line and out of doors for almost a week – those conditions permit a kind of magical thinking.

In the last few minutes before we’d crossed the border, a week earlier, I connected to my husband’s wi-fi, downloaded emails, skimmed instagram. After that moment, I’d be without data. Off-line. E-toxing. On Airplane Mode, we drove along the coast, further and further south, discovering trails and trees and rolling waves that conjured an entirely different set of songs from the ones our life normally hummed along to.

In that quick last-ditch info-grab, I discovered that Tom Petty had died. For almost the entire day, we thought that the flags were flying half-mast for him. When we landed in Portland to see some friends, reality, the headlines, the mindspin that is 2017, slammed into us, and the flags at half-mast made chilling sense.

Over dinner, we alluded to the Las Vegas massacre with a quietly whispered body count, frowns and head shakes, but there was a four year old in the room.

We moved on. We enjoyed each other’s company.

I don’t want to explain America to the boy yet. Not this non-Woody-Guthrie version of it.

I want to protect him from these kinds of psychic encroachments. Honestly, I want to protect myself from them.


And so, wilfully blinkered, embracing our news and social media black-out, we kept driving south to the land of giant trees. We encountered strangers along the way – at the park, at a rest stop, at a campsite, in a store, and they were friendly and kind and we felt safe, of sound mind, inhabitants of a world in which things are pretty fine.

And I realized, I would not, could not, have felt this way, if I had stayed at home, thousands of miles and degrees removed from an incident in Las Vegas, yet immersed in the headlines, the news, participating fully in the obsessive anguishing around it.

Is exercising this Option to Disengage selfish? Irresponsible? Do I owe it to the people who were killed to think about this non-stop, as it is unfolding, throughout the aftermath, to engage fully with the horror of it? Is checking out an act of privilege?

I suspect there is an ancient wisdom that requires us, the living, the survivors, to bear witness to suffering. To remember it. To tell of it. But without ritual, context, good teachings, ways to hold on and ways to let go, I think that sleeping instinct is exploited by the entertainment media today and by the practitioners of dark arts, who use the media like a primitive weapon to amplify their dark work.

Do I owe it to the world to engage fully in this horror?

For my mental health, I say no. Not this week. Not this month.


In a folding chair in the braided light that filters through the big trees, I read David Lynch’s book on meditation, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity. Ideas are like fish, he says. If you don’t meditate, you don’t get to the deep. You don’t ever find your way to the powerful, pure, abstract, beautiful fish. You don’t get to recharge, to plug into the bliss, to connect with the Universal Field.


I think the world of 24-7 hyperconnected screens is keeping us weired, dammed, stuck in the shallows. I think being constantly plugged in might be like being raised in a fish farm, trapped and fed artificial food and kept so far from our wild nature that we become increasingly dangerous to our environment if we’re ever released.

On the first of October, I consciously switched to Airplane Mode and declared that “the world” can live without my mental participation for a few weeks. And so far, that lack of distraction has allowed me to sit more deeply with some of my own personal sadnesses – to linger over my sorrow at the loss of a young friend; to fumble with thoughts of awe and admiration and horror for the women in my community who are singing and drumming for the spirits of lost sisters; to let some bigger fish swim up from the deep and make some ripples in my mind.

Best of all, Airplane Mode has allowed me to wake up in our little camper trailer’s cool morning, fully present to a boy greeting the day with such pure optimism that it sends little fault lines fissuring through my heart. We’re in a strange place. A different place from the day before and yet, “I wonder if I’ll make some new friends today?” is his first spoken thought.

The Velocity Project is Lisa Richardson’s ongoing attempt to unravel the existential mystery of how to slow the f*&k down and still achieve optimum productivity and life happiness.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Catching the Big Fish is a great book – one of the few I own in hardcover. Having been raised in the woods (quite litterally) until my pre-teens, I find it easier to disconnect from devices and TV than most people I know. Enjoy your slow down! Your family will have memories to cherish.

    1. Lisa Richardson says:

      Fascinating book, for sure. Thanks Erin. I reckon a childhood in the woods is good grounding. I feel slightly dazed now that I’m home, a bit spacey and disengaged, maybe, but very chill. How long will it last? Who knows. Best to you and yours.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s