no gadget night

Candle light creates focus in a room. We enjoy glass “candles” with refillable liquid paraffin and fibreglass wicks. Photo by Jo

We relax with our technology. My husband curls up with a good book on his Kobo reader. On the iPad I watch National Film Board stories. Pick any screen and we enjoy catching up on the lives of friends and distant relatives via Facebook. We love to cook and dine at home listening to Diana Panton, who’s voice is emanating from the iPod that is hooked up to a spare set of computer speakers. Grown kids text and friends PIN plans for the weekend.

This may seem a little too hooked up for some, but we’re fairly successful at keeping “work” out of our down time – our Blackberry ringers are turned off (we don’t have a home phone line) and email replies are left until tomorrow. Oh, and did I mention that we don’t have television cable? Just never got around to hooking it up. Truthfully, there are some great programs we would like to watch, but otherwise there is just too much junk that comes with it to distract. I remember years ago recording shows on VHS and saving them to watch: I would eventually fall behind and feel guilty. For those with PVR today, does this ring a bell? We have a 37” flat screen that nestles perfectly in a corner of the living room between the window wall and the fireplace. We rent movies occasionally on iTunes and own a few discs that are hard-to-find favourites. We also have a Netflix account and can view programming on the television via an Apple TV box.

So how does the title “No Gadget Night” fit in?

A couple of years ago, my husband was adjusting to an office job he started after decades of freelancing. Kind of like jumping from the rotating earth to a never ending burning sun! It would take him several hours to wind down and clear his brain in the evening. I watched him negotiate the workload and bargain with what to leave to the next day. But downtime got shorter and sleep was sometimes in short supply. A new philosophy was around the corner.

One night we rented a documentary called “No Impact Man”. The film follows a Manhattan couple with a young child through a year of making do with less – biking instead of driving, shopping for local fresh unpackaged food, not buying anything new (donating excess clothes and toys), creating very little garbage and eventually they turned off the electricity. We are already conscious about minimizing our daily impact and we try to be aware of excess packaging, buy food that hasn’t traveled too far, consume less electricity and we don’t have a car. For awhile now we have lived by the rule “bring in something, something has to go”. (I’ve weaned family and friends from buying me gifts – unless it’s consumable. Homemade food or a bottle of wine is always welcome!) The movie did remind us though that we haven’t followed through on a plan to find a local garden market in the summer and that we still throw out too much. But otherwise we aren’t able/willing to hook up solar panels to our apartment roof or replace the fridge with a “pot in pot”!

What was intriguing in the movie were the scenes of gathering with friends at their place – how to entertain without electricity? (They played a lot of charades) Already fans of candlelight dinners, we wondered what it would be like to spend a full evening without lights and gadgets? Okay, so the fridge and stove are still on. And we cook  by stove top light. There is a candle in the bathroom and many are flickering on the dining table. (We use refillable glass vessels with fibre glass wicks) The office and bedroom don’t need to be lit. Actually, during -20C nights, we keep the doors closed and stay cozy in the main part of the home. The kitchen has a cutout to the dining area which flows directly into the living room so it is not a large footprint to keep warm. Through the preparation and eating of our meal, we unpack our day’s activity and share calendar plans. There is no music playing and our Blackberrys are put away. A hum emits occasionally from the fridge and the gas heater blows intermittently. With the window blinds left open, the apartment glows with a diffused snowy city light. Everything slows down.

Now things become clear.

For some of you, reflections from the heart may make you uncomfortable. But without the daily fodder filling up the glass, how we are feeling quickly floats to the surface. Stress gives way to attacks of doubt or the juggling of personal problems can evolve into sadness or hopelessness. Topics usually left in the dark come under scrutiny and anger skates through the spotlight. My husband and I live fairly consciously already so giving ourselves permission to unlock these emotions for examination is possible. It’s rarely directed at each other – we solidly trust each other to deliver the mail to the universe and not let it populate the room. This unloading is cathartic and necessary. But why in the dark? In the quiet? No distractions and no blankets to dampen the sound, I suppose. And okay, a nightcap might exacerbate things. And then we drift into comfortable silence. It’s all been said.

But only a few nights have been this dark. We have taken a turn at letting our bodies succumb to sleep depravity and we snooze. At 8:30! But it is obviously needed. A mid week recharge. Otherwise we reminisce and suppose dreams of the future. I can recall one time being in fits of laughter as we improvised enough humorous repartee to fill a stand up comedy routine! Interesting, one gadget free evening we were reminded of our many quiet nights by a fire when camping. Nothing to do but listen to the wilderness (it’s amazing how the sound of falling acorns conjures the panicked feeling that a bear is near!) We would take a moonlit walk. Or hide in the tent when it was pouring. Usually sleep would come early as we got in the habit of joining the dawn to see what nature was up to as the sun emerged. But campsite evenings can be quite functional as well – cleaning up on all levels consumes a lot of time when there are few amenities and the campsite needs to be locked down to discourage hungry animals. Oh, have you ever paddled a canoe in the dark on a still lake? Stunning! If the sky is free of clouds, the Milky Way appears so dense, one can really imagine the Earth’s position on the edge of this galaxy.  Jo…stay on topic. 🙂

So once a week we enjoy entertaining a gadget-less philosophy. The next morning I feel refreshed and capable of processing my list of things to do. I revel in my super fast desktop! I conquer the world, one item at a time. Editing my photographs and videos gives me pleasure. I still have the ringer off on my cell phone. It’s not that I don’t enjoy speaking with people! I just try to keep the flow of my day going and I’ll get to folks during a good juncture when I can devote my time to our conversation. If I’m heading out to work, I bounce along the street to the beat of Fiest or Buble. We love our gadgets – as long as they play on our terms. One of the many choices we make in daily life. Finding what works best for us.