Updated: Feb 25
Saanvi Sundaram, a member of the LOG OFF Writers Group, interviews Claudia Erickson from The National Day of Unplugging to learn more about the upcoming campaign on March 5-6 2021.
National Day of Unplugging is a yearly event where people participating take a break from technology the first weekend in March (March 5- 6). As they gear up for the huge event— full of scavenger hunts and fort competitions, I took the opportunity to interview Claudia Erickson, the Director of Strategic Partnerships and creator of Little Free Libraries Scavenger Hunts of NDU. She talks about NDU, her thoughts on social media, and what she does to unplug.
What is National Day of Unplugging, and why do you think it’s such an important movement?
Claudia: National Day of Unplugging (otherwise known as NDU) is entering it’s 12th year this year. It began as a program of Reboot as a way of honoring the Jewish Sabbath from sundown on Friday to Sundown on Saturday unplugging from technology and connecting with your family and friends. NDU has grown so much over the years that Kim Cavallo (NDU Executive Director) and I decided to form the Unplug Collaborative, a non-profit organization, to give a new home to NDU where it can grow and go beyond the once yearly event. NDU is open to anyone and everyone who’s interested in unplugging in some way, whether for 2, 3 or 24 hours.
This movement is important because we focus on finding fun and meaningful things that people can do. We don’t focus as much on the educational piece although we think it’s important. There are groups already doing that so we wanted to create a space for connecting people to awesome unplugging resources and to help people find ways to gather and elevate their IRL relationships. It’s our hope that people will have a positive association with some of these unplugged activities and then want to do more of that. In addition, we focus on our awareness campaign— we like to highlight people that will be inspirational and encourage others to unplug… It’s why we like working with you guys, as you inspire young people to unplug.
You came up with the Little Free Libraries Scavenger Hunt. What were you thinking about when you came up with the idea?
Claudia: Well, it was a hybrid. I had done a scavenger hunt at the farmers markets here in San Diego, and people loved it. So I thought “Lets see if we can find another way to do this.” I love the Little Free Libraries (LFL) , they’re everywhere— 110,00 in 110 countries— and they’re just these little boxes, sometimes they look like mini homes in front of peoples homes, and there are books in there, and you just take a book and leave a book. So it’s the world’s largest book sharing program. It's wonderful that even in a big city, whenever you find one, you feel like you’re having a small town experience, being a part of a community which gives this nice fuzzy feeling.
I found a woman in Ontario had done a scavenger hunt with her LFL, so we built out of that idea. We’ve partnered with an author who created the Nocturnal Series, so all our clues are about nocturnal creatures this year. There will be a clue on each LFL, and when people go on the hunt they can unscramble the clue, collect some books and maybe some other items, get some exercise, and it’s fun and easy. They’ll be given a physical map -what we used to look at before we had phones to tell us where to go. There are almost forty Scavenger Hunts set up in the US and Canada, and I’m sure there’ll be more to come. Requests come in everyday, so we’re gonna have massive hunts on the 6th of March. Everyone can get involved.
What are some other activities you have for NDU?
Claudia: There’s a fort building contest. A lot of people like forts and you can use nature products or your couch or maybe even your dining table as a base and build out from there. We have a contest for the closest to nature, best upcycled, best kid fort, adult fort, and most creative-- we have a lot of adults and teens, so they could create a date night fort— with a Mandala and lights.
We also have Crochet for a Cause. London Kaye, (a yarn bomber) is an amazing young woman who makes what used to be an older person's hobby into a totally cool thing to do. She crochet’s these small squares to make welcome home signs which will go to youth who are coming out of homelessness and transitioning into permanent homes— to give them a sign to come home to. It’s a nice thing to do, it’s giving back, it’s keeping your hands busy— we actually just had a twelve year old named Jonah Larson, who is a crocheting wizard instruct Kristen Bell, an actress, how to make a sign. She did an Instagram live crocheting and it was so adorable. Jonah is so good at instructing her and Kristen had never done it before.
We’ve got somewhere between 50 to 100 ideas on our website of things that you can do for NDU. You can do adventurous things or simple things, you can paint or go ice skating. I know a lot of people are into roller skating these days. You can go ice-blocking— if you want to know what it is check out our website for a clip. If you don’t live in a place where it gets cold, this is one way to go “sledding” without snow. It’s really fun, I find a lot of teens and young adults love it.
What do you like to do on a day when you unplug?
Claudia: I like gardening— there’s something about having my hands in the dirt and growing things, especially something I can eat. I just love it. Even when I’m stressed out, gardening calms me down. It’s something you have to focus on, it’s mindful. And even if you’re not into the idea of mindfulness, it’s really just focusing on something. It clears your mind. I also take a candle light bath, most every night to unwind and relax. It’s become a lifeline for me during COVID. At the Unplug Collaborative, we try to promote having fun, to just go out and enjoy yourself for a while. Life has become very heavy this year and the news is sometimes just too much. We could all use a little more joy and fun in our lives. I recently got an E-bike, and I feel like a little kid, when I’m on that thing riding around town with my husband. It’s a blast!
LOGOFF wants to spread the message not that social media is a horrible thing, but that there are negative effects by using it. Do you agree with the same statement? Why/Why not?
Claudia: I agree 100%. I think it’s a wonderful tool— we wouldn’t be able to have this conversation without technology, I wouldn’t be able to get a lot of my work done. Social media is helpful by making little connections, like the ones we made with the LFL organization. It’s fine in small doses. I think the most important thing is to understand how it’s designed. If you haven’t seen the documentary The Social Dilemma, it's a movie worth watching. It’s a bit dramatic at times, but it nails the point that people need to understand that the way apps and devices are designed is to keep their attention on the screen as long as possible. For instance, if you’re watching a fight on Youtube, the next video is going to be another fight, but a bit more extreme. Since tech uses AI, it knows you so well, it knows what’s going to work and what will keep you engaged the longest. As humans we can’t really match it. If we use tech we need to understand that we’re outmatched and the best we can do is be aware of it and try to moderate our usage so we are using it and it’s not using us.
As soon as you’re aware of it— particularly teens, are so smart and they don’t like to be manipulated. Just being aware, will mean you have a better shot at monitoring your own use. Just like any diet, you need to have balance. The pandemic has added a lot of technology to a lot of people’s lives. It’s been like living in a fudge shop, where we get to have as much technology as we want. Don’t get me wrong, I love fudge and it’s great…. but I can overdo it. Social media is like fudge. A little bit is good, but too much of it, and you get a sick stomach. We all need to pay attention to the signs that let us know we've had too much.
You talked about the pandemic. Screen time because of the COVID pandemic has risen drastically for reasons out of our control. Even school has gone online. What do you do, to make sure you don't use too much screen time while still being able to balance your work?
Claudia: It’s been challenging— for everyone. We’re gearing up for NDU and I’m spending so much time online myself right now. Fortunately, every time I get into busy times like this, I try to learn from it and make a point to take breaks and do those things I was talking about before (take a bath, get out in nature with my dogs or take a bike ride). It’s also important to do basic things, like make sure to park your phone somewhere other than your nightstand. So many people say they can’t do that because they use it as an alarm clock. Funny thing is, businesses still sell alarm clocks for about $10 so you can fix that easily enough. Not looking at your phone last thing at night and first thing in the morning is one of the most important things you can do to recharge your brain. Another thing is to put on a watch. It gives you one less time you are checking your phone. If you look at your watch for the time that’s all you will get. If you look at your phone, it’s so tempting to check social media and for messages too and that gets you sucked into a rabbit hole. Do things so that you don’t look at your phone as much. You can also take off social media apps from your phone and only look at social media on your laptop, or put the apps in a folder on your phone on a different screen keeping your home screen clear. Some people are even using “dumb phones” simpler phones. My daughter used a flip phone for a few months and surprisingly she loved it, except for not having access to maps for driving around. She learned a lot from the experience and I think it helped her adjust how much she uses her phone once she went back to a smartphone.
Character ED is a program we’re working on to introduce social media to middle and high schoolers. What are your thoughts?
Claudia: I think it would be great. It would be really useful, and anything that can put a light on some points the The Social Dilemma hits on can make kids understand the dangers before they even start using cell phones. Parents aren’t always equipped to have the conversation as there still is a digital divide going on in many families but it’s important that these conversations happen. I know some schools have programs for cybersafety, which is important, but it sometimes misses the element of “Let’s just look at how these gadgets are designed” and I think the conversation should be more nuanced and different.
Social media has opened up doors to different movements— the LGBTQ+ community. People have become more open-minded. If people give up or use less SM, do you think we lose out on important causes?
Claudia: I’ve seen a lot of good and bad from it (social media). I think people can still understand the causes and support them even if they are using social media less. I don’t think we can put the genie back in the bottle and have people get their news from the TV. It’s just the question of: are we going to come up with more humane technology designs that will still get us what we want without the bad stuff— which is what I hope. Are we heading towards more regulation, are we going to pressure existing companies into changing the apps, or come up with new designs? I think we have quite an uphill battle here to come but your generation is really resourceful in finding solutions to things. I keep seeing new technology products coming out (to the point where it’s sometimes a bit overwhelming), but they have better design and are less manipulative so I like that. Over time, I feel like a few good products that people like will bring the masses over and we will find a new safer space to communicate with each other.
As a parent, what concerns you the most about social media and the impact it's had on teenagers today?
Claudia: For me, I’m most concerned about the fact that a great majority of youth up through those in their early twenties have only known a world full of technology. Their reality is so different from previous generations, and they don’t even realise what they’re missing. Sure there are young people who don’t use much technology, but that’s often the exception. I’m concerned about the large numbers of young people being depressed and anxious. Kids aren’t as concerned about rites of passage to adulthood like they used to be like getting a driver’s license or a job, learning to cook, build things, or caring for another human being. All the hours spent on-line take away from all the things you need to learn how to do so that life as an adult is a great experience and not one you dread and aren’t prepared for. It’s troubling that this is the norm now and people don’t even recognize that “adulting” is so hard sometimes simply because they haven’t spent years preparing for it. Despite that I will say that I feel the tide seems to be shifting thanks to Covid and that a lot of young people seem to be losing interest in technology and have a hunger for getting out into nature. That makes me hopeful that good things are on the horizon for your generation!
Remember, the National Day of Unplugging is approaching, 5th and 6th of March! Take part in this worldwide movement and switch off your phones for a day!
References (And additional links)-
National Day of Unplugging: https://www.nationaldayofunplugging.com/
Little Free Libraries: https://littlefreelibrary.org/
London Kaye: https://www.londonkaye.com/