FOTOFRIDAY: La Dolce Far Nikon

Posted on: Friday, October 25th, 2019
Posted in: Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment

This shot just popped up on my desktop. That’s me, in a reflective mood, absorbed by the familiar Italian phrase that means (approximately) the sweetness of doing nothing. What’s more interesting: I don’t recall where I was. Which brings up the topic of photography, as nowadays most everyone is a photographer, yet hardly anyone uses a camera.

Instead, they use phones which, of course, can do anything—including take pictures. The benefits are obvious, from convenience to concealment to insta-SM-ing if you wish. Phone photos also tell you when and where you took the image, if not what you had for lunch.

This shot came from a real, hefty, cumbersome Nikon. Hence, the incomplete info. My SLR camera tells the DATE, but not the PLACE, which now strikes me as strange. Which can only mean one thing: I need to take more real pictures. Drag my Nikon around more often. The quality is decidedly superior, even if the metadata is, shall we say, unplugged.

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Stop SM and Smell the Roses

Posted on: Sunday, October 13th, 2019
Posted in: Unplugging, Work/Life Hacking, Wily Mktg | Leave a comment
Kirk Horsted

A shocking amount of both sabbatical and SM news arrives from India, Europe, and places that have forever taken free time seriously. FBOW, we often overlook it like arrogant Americans. But sometimes, one realizes that, rather like the lessons of travel itself, there’s much to learn beyond the pond.

Recently, Mumbai’s mid-day.com published a warm and provocative article about a successful pop musician, Vasundhara, who one day realized that SM had taken over her life, damaged her career and real-world interactions, and brought on a case of anxiety that was causing bodily harm. “Likes” had replaced hugs—and the results were toxic.

Her solution? A 6-month SM Detox. The cravings hurt at first. But she pushed herself toward impressive projects including a teaching position in the arts, singing lessons that improved her ability to sing with the whole body and increased her range, a new single, and a how-to book for musicians trying to break into the industry.

In other words, all those hours of SM posting may have seemed like savvy, modern-day marketing. But when compared to face-to-face connecting? Waste of time!

She’s returned to SM, but selectively. Her new discipline allows 40 minutes every other day. And she aims to never turn back. As she says, she’s realized the “superficial information” from SM floods you with false impressions of people, and that, “We have forgotten that we are wired to wired to look at a person, get non-verbal cues, and hear their voices.”

A psychologist who helped with this story + the BreakAway Board of AdvisorZ recommends you can read all about it and study their excellent SM Detox tips here.

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FOTOFRIDAY: Thursday Night Lights

Posted on: Friday, September 20th, 2019
Posted in: Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment

Here you see some high school girls enjoying a varsity soccer match on a Thursday night. America’s new pastime, of course, is football—so the pig-skinners get the Friday night lights. And usually, the youngsters and crowds follow in a grand American tradition.

Kids’ sports get plenty of bad raps these days. People fret about the costs, injuries, stress, commitment, and beyond. I get it. But this sports dad (and eternal coach and booster member) will kindly play defense. As everyday BreakAways go, athletics win. What better way to sidestep the routine, get exercise, make friends, experience competition, represent community, and get off-screen?

With any luck, those life lessons last a lifetime. And the kids will stay forever young and robust.

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Resist SM “Monetizing” by Doing Nothing

Posted on: Tuesday, June 18th, 2019
Posted in: Unplugging, Wily Mktg | Leave a comment

Today we proudly launch a new category, Wily Mktg, to merge the professional pursuits of the Wily Wordsmith and Marketing Consultant with the free-your-time promise of BreakAway. They overlap swimmingly. And my career advisors tell me I should write more about my craft. A new book promoting “doing nothing” provides the perfect starting point.

That book is Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, and it prescribes the medicine we all need right about now.

  • Monetizing the masses

One of my favorite hobby-treats is attending live music. LIVE music. As in, real artists on stage + real people in the audience + all the exciting sideshows that make for the consummate concert experience. Lately, the ultimate sign of audience approval is when people stand up and hold their phones to the show. Recording? Maybe But it feels like something bigger. And sorta surreal.

This ritual happens everywhere, actually—from pro sports events to elementary music concerts. Participating in the present is becoming less important than engagement through your gadgets.

This is one of the themes of a Ms. Odell’s book. She takes a rather deep dive into the political, spiritual, and moral implications of our relatively new fixation—but moreso emphasizes the oft-ignored reality that these beasts have masterfully monetized our attention for the profit of (what are suddenly) the largest corporations in the world. And, by association and with boundless budgets, their advertisers.

  • Where did all the tribes go?

I vividly remember the early days of this technological revolution. While overwhelming, the magnetism of suddenly connecting with people who are also into, say, Kate Bush or rising minor-leaguers made communities and minds and explode. We created and joined “tribes.” “Movements” aiming to change the world sprang up like wild ferns in spring. That’s still around, but buried.

Meanwhile, we have gradually become living, breathing algorithms that allow corporations to do target-marketing with scary precision. We may not like the idea—or we may buy right into it—but Odell asserts that we’re losing our attention span and ability to understand context. We know only, and live only for, the present. The meaning of that “message” on the phone is vague, yet becomes how we perceive and experience the present. Over time, we become addicted to the stimuli and lose touch with the real world around us.

Meanwhile, we become evermore under the control of Big Brothers like Google, Facebook, and Amazon who know more about us than we’ll ever know, keep us increasingly linked, and transform this circle of attention-connection into billions.

  • The solution: Nothing

Ms. Odell suggests an intentional effort to disconnect, or at least walk way from, your devices: “To stand apart is to take the view of the outsider without leaving…It means not fleeing your enemy, but knowing your enemy, which turns out not to be the world…but the channels through which you encounter it day to day.”

The BreakAway premise holds that fleeing is not only fantastic fun, but spiritually transformative. And whether you use your break time to see the world or do nothing are both brilliant ideas.

With any luck, there will be time for both. And freedom means not only taking your time, but also keeping Big Brother at a distance.

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Even NBA Stars Suffer from Screen Abuse

Posted on: Wednesday, March 20th, 2019
Posted in: Unplugging | Leave a comment

My memories of playing and coaching sports, though fading, feature animated pregame rituals all about team and game. Sure, each player had their own routine. But few experiences compare to the upbeat team banter and camaraderie—which remains one reason why I am emphatically pro-sports for youth. That pre-game power was more than palpable; it was virtually electric.

It’s less like that these days. Now “virtual” and “electric” take on more literal connotations, as phones, headphones, and SM take over the minds and attentions of athletes.

An article by Timberwolves/NBA writer Chris Hine last week peeked into the locker room—and saw millionaire hooper studs with their heads down, staring at phones. Rather than shouts and slaps, there was silence (except for headphone noise). Rather than high 5s and clapping, hands were scrolling and tapping.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has noticed, describing some athletes as “unhappy” and “isolated.” Celtics superstar Kyrie Irving has stated of his fellow round-ballers, “People are dealing with anxiety, depression and other disorders that affect their well-being,” … “Some people can’t handle all of this, and we need to be mindful of that.” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns talks of having to deal with the “keyboard warriors”—rabid and rude fans that lurk and stalk from the cloud.

  • Beyond the NBA

While the NBA leads pro sports in SM attention—they have more Instagram followers than the other 3 big pro sports combined—the malady has, shall we say, gone viral. Strib writer Hine describes it as a “millennial condition.”

That’s certainly been my experience as a college instructor. Back in the day, the gathering of the students before class was a meaningful time of connection, chat, and even cornering students who had fallen behind or otherwise needed attention.

Over the years, that time has become evermore reserved and self-centered—to the point that teachers are often trained not to pressure students about their screen focus; you may feed into anxiety, sometimes called nomophobia, and make the problem worse.

  • Some sports offer hope?

All young athletes love their tech toys. Yet some sports remain more old-school, at least at times. After all, baseball games take hours and teams play and practice almost daily, but do you ever see players sneaking their screen into the dugout? Unlikely. A football player, meanwhile, would get thwacked by a coach. And an iPhone on a hockey rink would get smashed to smithereens, splashed with blood, and then eaten by the enforcer.

Of course, sports represent just one microcosm of the digitalia addiction conundrum. And the problem no longer just applies to millennials; I routinely see grizzled grandmas and grandpas stuck on their screens whether walking, dining, or driving (of course).

Thank goodness athletes must at least unplug to play the actual game. So far, anyway.

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Unplugging Becoming Unpopular & Uncool

Posted on: Friday, October 5th, 2018
Posted in: Unplugging | Leave a comment

We all see it often: The idiot driving in front of you is all over the map—breaking and swerving, so unnerving. When this happened to me yesterday, my car-model prognosis surmised this person might be old. That’s fine; we all aspire to become elderly drivers, right? But this time, I pulled up in the next lane only to see that this aging person was also staring straight at her phone. Gadzooks!

  • Teens at risk for device addiction, seriously!

10 years ago, the MYBA Editorial Komittee declared that obsessing with your own digitalia qualified as risky behavior—including the danger that you may miss out on the joys (and pitfalls) of Reality. Taking a 3-month BreakAway to a dream destiny offered the ultimate escape from screen fakery and other drudgery.

That was before the cell phone, as we now know it. The simple remedy for that obsession? A practice called Unplugging. But that movement has gone the way of Universal Health.

So, sadly, BreakAway has become relatively silent on that cause. Others research and write about digitalia abuse routinely. In fact, over-usage (and by that I mean normal usage) of cell phones and SM now qualifies as a veritable addiction. Among teens, it’s an epidemic, in plain view wherever they may stumble upon you.

But as the granny-driver in the relic Buick reminds us, this disease does not discriminate; all ages are vulnerable. And exposure always beckons.

Yet a guy could drive himself bonkers (and has) by asking children or other loved ones to put it away. We’ve lost. We’ve lost the expectation for focused presence of mind from others; they have somewhere better, cooler to “be”…on-screen. We’ve lost the connection of eye contact. Heck, we may have lost the art of conversation.

Consider these findings about teens from Common Sense Media, although I believe the numbers might be similar for a substantial (and growing) segment of adults (who may just be striving to be youngish, since the tight jeans didn’t work):

  • 35% say texting is their favorite way to communicate.
  • 32% say talking is their favorite form of communication, down from 49% in 2012.
  • Almost ¾ believe tech companies manipulate people into spending more time on their devices. (Yet they increase usage anyway.)
  • 64% come across hateful content sometimes or often.
  • 46% said their parents would be “more worried” if they knew what “actually happens” online.
  • Waving the white flag (is there an emoji for that?)

Although I still preach and prick the kinfolk I care about when they are phone-focused during, say, mealtime and relevant chats, I rarely sacrifice my own sanity any more. Too bad. In this case, the “simpler times” really were better.

I miss the basic human courtesies of mutual respect and attention. It’s rather heartbreaking to realize you’re less popular than a widget.

But hey, we’re not alone.

(Or are we?)

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Multitask Much? 5 Ways to Give Yourself a Break!

Posted on: Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016
Posted in: Unplugging | Leave a comment
Multitasking is a myth. Duh. This we now know for a real, true fact, thanks to an onslaught of studies that inspired a barrage of media. Nonetheless, you can’t step outside of your mudroom without running into people driving while texting (and applying makeup), jogging while phoning (and walking the dog), and boarding the bus while sexting (while listening to Prince).

It’s not just youth. As local columnist Gail Rosenblum recently confessed, “We can bemoan our kids’ insistence on doing homework while wearing earbuds, watching TV, and Snapchatting. But we’re worse.” Rare is the person in this great nation who has not been sucked into this multitasking milieu.

So please remind yourself: It’s a myth. Our brains and attention habits may be gradually changing, but humans still can really only focus on one thing at time.

  • One. Thing. At. A. Time.

MIT neuropsychology professor Earl K. Miller has done massive studies, and concludes, “Multi-tasking, it turns out, is actually not multi-tasking at all. It is doing many similar things, switching back and forth between them.”

Maybe we should redub it hypertasking?

We need to fight back, people. We need to resist our own un-basic instincts that have us believing we’re most productive and impressive when we may really be just frazzled, stressed, and rude. Yes, rude. When did it become okay to duck in and out of conversations because you can’t stop simultaneously playing with your digitalia?

We need a break. We need to do one life-affirming thing at a time, one worthwhile chore at a time, one relaxing pastime at a time. Maybe these things—if pursued mindfully—will help us refocus our brains and realize that the beauty of life still rests in the little things. In the 3D moment. And in rest itself.

So please read these Five Ways to Give Yourself a Break! And try digesting it in one bite, start to finish. If you can’t, worry not. I still love you. Maybe.

  • 1. Meditate


Most anyone who’s been exposed to meditation discovers its value and pledges to make it part of their daily routine. And that promise often lasts about as long as the New Year’s diet. After all, who has time? Who has that 20-40 minutes every day to sit and focus on…nothing? We all do. We all have exactly 1,440 minutes per day. What you do with them is entirely your choice. And may determine your destiny.

  • 2. Fish

Fish? Really? Sure—if you can. On my lake, fisherpeople have become, for me, a symbol for patience, persistence, and silence. If fishing is inconvenient for you, find some equally passive pastime, like doodling, searching for four-leaf clovers, or finding animal shapes in the clouds.


  • 3. Play music


The Mozart effect has confirmed the genius of making music a part of life. Simple attentive listening can increase brain function. But try playing, even if you ain’t Paul McCartney. Pound on that dusty keyboard or pull out that old guitar. You’ll notice a form of focus that feels great. Avoid using the metronome app on your phone.

  • 4. Rest, Yes, Rest

We’re sleep-deprived to the point of health risks—including hypertension, diabetes, and dangerous driving. So sleep. And take naps. Get a hammock. Use the hammock. Put your head down on soft grass, your partner’s belly, and your chaise lounge. Fight with your family over who gets the recliner. Then get another one.


  • 5. Take a break


This site preaches the gospel of Sabbatical. And if you ever get the chance to take, say, three months to sail away to a dream destination, please, please don’t spend that precious experience on the phone, the computer, or hidden away in some media fantasy. Chat up every neighbor; study every sandcastle; taste every vino locale.

Cool. Thanks. You made it. You can go back to multitasking now.

And by the way, good luck with that.

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Screen (Ab)Use: Are We Near a Breaking Point?

Posted on: Friday, December 11th, 2015
Posted in: Unplugging | Leave a comment
Teaching a writing course at an arts college and raising a family introduces me to creative, diverse youth—including Millennials. Their views about devices/SM/screen-living may be shifting: More and more of them have had enough. They can’t exactly turn it all off (who can?). But they now suspect that less is more.

Too much Facebook can make you feel like this.

Too much Facebook can make you feel like this.

  • Try the itsy-bitsy sabbatical

Work, communication, and entertainment (and, of course, shopping) continue to become evermore screen-centered. So if you’ve got a, like, life, you have little choice but to stay plugged-in. That’s where much of your life lives these days.

Like my students, though, more voices are questioning that focus. This article by career coach Joyce Russell promoting 60-second breaks acknowledges that most folks are working longer hours (on-screen), but then asserts that the brain just can’t keep going and going like the Eveready bunny—without recharging.

  • It’s your brain, stupid

Ms. Russell is on to something. She recommends you don’t just jump from one screen chore to another, but,

Substitute restorative activities such as listening to music, enjoying nature, meditating, engaging in social interactions, daydreaming, phoning your children or partner, reading a fun book, drawing or doodling.”

I’ll second that motion—and suggest adding some motion. As in movement. I work a lot at home, FBOW, but it DOES allow me to garden, kayak, and tend to the property in bits and pieces. Oh sure, I sometimes get sidetracked and lose myself to menial (or epic) chores. But often, raking leaves becomes quite refreshing when compared to managing more emails.

BreakAway from your screens and feel like this!

BreakAway from your screens and feel like this!

  • Quitting FB = 😊

The old joke goes, Q: What’s the best part about not being on Facebook? A: Not being on Facebook!

Now there’s a stream of research finding that the joke isn’t just funny, it may be true. “Quitting Facebook makes you happier,” states a recent story with a sub that shouts, “Other studies have shown a link between Facebook and symptoms of depression.”

The study comes from the Happiness Institute in Copenhagen, and found that participants who maintained ongoing use of FB were 55% more likely to feel stressed than those who took a one-week break. One week!

Apparently, the perky, gloating trend of FB posts invites self-comparison. And who can possibly win against that nonstop Pollyanna, check-me-out! barrage? The study summarizes:

Social media is a nonstop great news channel, a constant flow of edited lives which distorts our perception of reality.”

As a fledgling humorist, I’ve tried to be funny, ironic, and maybe even snide on FB. How’d those posts do? Not well. I’ve gotten serious replies (as if people didn’t get the joke). I’ve received resistance. But mostly, I’ve gotten ignored. If there were a “dislike” button, I’d probably have a collection.

That, too, was depressing. So I, too, stick mostly to sunrises, kid pics, and the occasional look-at-this-cool-thing-I’m doing! post. FB aficionados “like” those.

Real life shows up in many colors and moods. Except for on Facebook, they all have their place. The richest and most complex are right on front of you. And no, not on that screen.

Are we reaching a breaking point?

Can you BreakAway?

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Reflections on Reflecting, Unplugging, and Healing

Posted on: Thursday, July 30th, 2015
Posted in: Unplugging, Blog | Leave a comment
IMG_8314Well, hi there!

Last time we gathered, the topic du jour (which became flavor of the month) was the notion of over-booking summer activities for kids. I defended it, and now that summer is two-thirds over, I still would. With any luck, summer has a riddim of its own that settles into a feel-good groove regardless of commitments. Or even crises.

  • While you’re busy making other plans…

I also know that in summer—or anytime—the fates can throw curveballs that hit you in the face with seams that imprint SURVIVAL MODE NOW. This happened last Friday, when my son had a sudden medical emergency that resulted in major surgery 12 hours after the onslaught. (He’s recovering well now.)

One leaves such a crisis feeling dizzied, humbled, and grateful. After all, he was off the grid in the Boundary Waters just last month; had this happened then and there, he’d have never made it home. And in a strange way, the many emergencies I’ve endured thus far in my life (horrible and life-changing) have schooled me in how the system works and trained me for this one.

Summer and the future look different, downright hazy, since his surgery. But we’re home, and the focus simplifies to nourishment, resting, and healing. His cliff–jumping, wake-boarding, and hardcore workouts prepping for the Princeton football team will have to wait. Thus the patient learns patience—and that we’re never really in charge.

And the dad learns that parenting doesn’t end at 18 or the final days before college. Sometimes the job only gets harder.

  • Healing happens…

“Healing” is a billion-dollar word these days, with enough experts and gurus and research to make a Ph.D. in the topic implausible. So, instead, we each go through our own perpetual education. The older you get and the more scars you earn, the more healing becomes a state of mind. A challenge. A process that feels more like Zen than physical therapy.

  • When unplugging takes on its own power

Unplugging—also a state of mind—comes naturally to me (FBOW). This summer, that has meant keeping work in check. Resisting blog writing. Finding the garden, kayak, and hanging with friends more fun than Facebook. And sometimes twitching in alarm when I’m practicing R&R and the cell phone rings or dings with texts.

Anyway, that cell phone doesn’t work like it used to. I mean, so many people are too overwhelmed to answer or reply—so your query sits like a mystery until…whenever. Too, the dang things often run out of power or just won’t function. That was true during the medical emergency when my wife was at a family gathering way up Lake Superior and I needed to inform her. Neither AT&T nor Verizon nor the magical Northern Lights could create a connection.

And we think these little things are the best and coolest thing since drive-in movies? I’ll take the drive-in, with popcorn and Jr. Mints, please. I’ll keep my land line too; one would have been priceless in this situation.

I wish more people chose to unplug, though I know it’s become difficult to ignore the attraction (addiction?) of a bestie sending you an emoji or an “LOL.” Unplugging is a discipline worth the…effort. And I swear it can lead to a more balanced, peaceful place.

  • Balance and peace

Funny. These things may be within reach even when possibly life-threatening emergencies bring breathless fear, cancel my best-week-of-the-year vacation, and leave a guy feeling about as in-control as the loon parents and their baby who float and fish on my lake every day.

They dodge countless boats nonstop; the line between life and death for them is more thin and invisible than fishing monofilament. They’ll soon fly far away into only more perils and threats, including their dangerously BP-polluted winter home in the gulf of Mexico.

They will survive, I hope. We’ll all survive, I hope. But there are no guarantees. And I just watched my son spontaneously come closer to blowing out the candles than he ever has.

So we’ll enjoy this unexpected gift of time together. We’ll watch and listen to the Twins, sip beverages on the patio, and catch up on our cribbage.

And I’ll go back to unplugging, reflecting, and soaking in this gorgeous summer—while I can, wherever I may be. In spite of—or maybe thanks to—omnipresent uncertainty, I know that all we have is today.

And so far, today is just about perfect.

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What’s So Smart About Smartphones?

Posted on: Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
Posted in: Unplugging, Blog | Leave a comment
P1010749They may be the most mind-blowing invention ever. But are smartphones as amazing as we think they are?

They have never: Cooked a delicious meal; hoisted the sails; shoveled snow.

What’s more, they can be troublemakers, as an ever-growing body of research and press suggests…

  • Smartphones can ruin vacations.

Our regal friends at Princess Cruises did some research and found that 67% of Americans would feel completely relaxed if they were entirely “off the grid.” 52% said that having a smartphone “makes it harder to relax.” Yet a cruise without wifi would be like a cruise without booze.

  • Smartphones screw up your love life.

NYT and a boatload of researchers report that devices (not the bedroom kind) are making partners feel ignored, insecure, disconnected, abandoned, and just plain bummed. What happens when the shunned partner finally says, “You don’t turn me on anymore?”

  • Smartphones cause “tech neck.”

Fact: Bodies age. Fact: Smartphones speed up that pain in the neck. Way back in 2011, 83% of cell phone users reported some neck and hand pain from texting. More recently, a local chiropractor says 80% of her cases are likely be related to phones. Not familiar with tech neck? Take a selfie next time you’re staring at your smartphone.

  • Smartphones make kids slow and fat.

I’ve been sitting on this research for a while, but that keeps me in the theme. In short, the WHO believes that 80% of kids worldwide are not getting enough exercise. It takes youth (9-17), on average, 90 seconds longer to run a mile than it took their parents. There’s plenty of blame (and munchies?) to go around. But techno devices increasingly keep butts stuck in seats.

  • Smartphones kill conversations. 

What’s better than sitting around chewing the fat with friends and fam? Checking your smartphone, apparently. Thus deteriorates thousands of years of progress in communicating via body language, expressions, and eye contact (remember that?). Run your own test: Ask some gathering, “Which ________ song said ______” See how many phones flip out. See how many memories die.

Not to worry. I got me an iPhone 6 now. The whole wide world is at my fingertips, right?


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