Here’s an exercise, just to imagine something: Imagine 24 hours without using any electrical power.
You know you can do it. That is, you know you possess the ability to do it. You know humans lived that way for almost all of human history. I’m not saying electrical power is good, bad, right, or wrong. I’m not asking where it came from or how green or sustainable it is.
I’m not even suggesting you try avoiding electrical power for 24 hours, just to think about it. But not just a cursory, “hmm… sounds hard. I could probably do it but wouldn’t want to.” Seriously reflect on the prospect.
What would happen? What would you do more of? Less of?
What do you expect to find easiest or hardest? How much planning would you need to do? How many things would you have to unplug? Could you disconnect the circuit breaker to your whole house? What would happen to the food in your fridge if turned off? How would you tell time? Are you worried whom you could communicate with? If you’d miss the news or social media? So what if you did?
Would you suffer? Might you prefer it?
How would it affect your relationships during the day? Before that day, planning for it? After the day?
What emotions might you experience more or less of? In greater depth? What emotions do you feel now, even before thinking about it?
Do you think after doing it you’d regret it? Want to do it again?
If you feel resistance to thinking about it, what is the source of that resistance?
Do you find thinking about it makes you more or less interested in trying to go without electrical power for 24 hours?
I’m thinking about it
I haven’t done this exercise of just thinking about it yet. I’ve sort of thought about it, but I’m getting close to trying to unplug everything for a day. I’m wondering if I’ll count following walk/don’t walk signs as using electrical power.
I’m partly inclined just to do it first and reflect on it during and after. Even when I did the ten-day meditation retreats with no reading, writing, or talking, we still used power. There was a microwave in the kitchen, for example, and clocks on the walls in many rooms. My two North Korea trips had no internet, but we used plenty of power.
In my apartment now, only my computer and phone are drawing power. The fridge is unplugged (five months and three weeks! It looks like I’ll make six months). I unplug the microwave and pressure cooker to keep off their electric displays. The toaster, blender, and a floor lamp are plugged in, but I think draw no power, so unplugging them would be trivial.
I understand that orthodox Jews who observe their sabbath still keep their refrigerators plugged in and keep electrical clocks running. Of course, each person makes his or her own choices. I understand most won’t start new uses, but allow things on to stay on, so will leave a bulb or clock on without turning it off. I believe many Amish use electrical power, though probably less, and not from the power grid.
I guess I’d want to get a few physical books for the day, maybe to read in the park. I’d bring some paper and pens, but not my phone or headphones. Maybe I’d go for a long run or bike ride.
I don’t think I’d regret it. I think I’d struggle at the beginning. I’d feel tugs and cravings to check email and news. I’d probably feel unproductive and fear I was wasting my time. Then I’d probably find activities I’d find wholesome and start enjoying them. I suspect I’d start making it a regular habit, maybe once a month or year.
I’d probably have to schedule it to make sure to avoid obligations to others.
EDIT: I did it and recorded the results
A few days after posting, I disconnected the circuit breaker to my apartment for twenty-four hours. Here are the podcast episodes before and after:
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees