Pause and Unplug

One of the things that most of you wouldn’t know is that my department chair, Dr. Kris Bunton, writes a weekly “COJO conversation” sent to each of the faculty in the Department of Communication and Journalism on Monday mornings. The goal is to help all of us pause and reflect on work as teachers, learners, writers and professional communicators. It always ends with a list of nuts and bolts: reminders, meetings times, announcements and the like.

I adore the Monday morning COJO conversation because, more than anything, it inspires me to pause.

The theme of this week’s COJO conversation inspired me to pause and write this blog. Actually, Dr. Bunton really should be the blog-writer because, as you’ll see, I’m about to share a lengthy quote from her COJO conversation:

“I liked a quotation that weather forecaster Paul Douglas included in his Star Tribune weather piece yesterday. He quoted a writer named Carol Bishop Hipps, who said, ‘Bittersweet October. The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking perfect pause between the opposing miseries of summer and winter.’ I suppose her words seemed perfect to me because I’m a gardener, and autumn is a pause. The weekend’s sunshine and mild temperatures lured me outside to plant tulip bulbs, pot up some annuals that will winter over in the house, snake the soaker hoses out of the perennial beds, drain the rain barrels and store the backyard benches. As a gardener, I paused between the end of a fertile summer and the beginning of a winter’s rest to think ahead to the next season. While I made one last bouquet of the roses that have blessed me by blooming happily all summer, my thoughts shifted to school. It occurred to me that this week gives us an academic pause of sorts.”

Last weekend indeed was “midterm break.” Yes, we students and faculty were granted one day off from classes. All K-12 students in the state of Minnesota enjoyed a little pause earlier in the month during MEA. Whatever its form, we all enjoy a little pause, don’t we?

Whether you have the chance to pause this week or not, I’m going to offer up a challenge to all of us. It is inspired by an assignment we recently gave students in our COJO 111: Communication and Citizenship course. Their assignment: Unplug from all forms of technology and media for four days. Everything. Turn off your cell phone. Shut down your Internet. Put away your iPod.

“What? Are you crazy?” Our students thought we were, but they all survived. No one actually died. And in place of their technology they, instead, tuned into great conversations with their parents. They talked face-to-face with people: acquaintances, strangers and friends. They walked down the street and visited neighbors. They even reported taking more naps, doing more homework, focusing more in class (instead of text messaging or checking e-mail), making new friends and getting more exercise (“nothing else to do… might as well go for a run”). And although they also reported that the assignment made them “crabby,” “bored,” “frustrated,” “mad” and “scared,” the lessons we can all learn about pausing and unplugging are significant.

Those of you who know me are likely a bit baffled by my challenge; I’ve often been overheard telling friends that if I weren’t so blissfully and happily married to my husband of almost 17 years, I’d marry my iPhone (I know, not legal in any state). And indeed, the Star Tribune recently published an article headlined “American family is as strong as ever, thanks to cell phone, Internet” (Oct. 20, 2008). As a family and interpersonal communication researcher and teacher myself, I fully recognize the benefits and drawbacks to being both plugged in and unplugged as it affects relationships.

That said, it makes the challenge even that more important. If you are headed into a brief break this week, try this: Unplug yourself. Pause. Notice what happens.