Daily Archives: February 26, 2010

The “Off” Switch

Everyone has to turn it off sometime.

The space heater finally died. It was quiet, efficient, put out a lot of concentrated heat, and it lasted two years. About average for small appliances. It would cost more to fix than to throw out, so reluctantly I replaced it while seeing landfills fill up with cheap, but necessary, appliances.

The new one has a digital temperature reading, a timer, a high- and low speed setting . . . and no “off” switch. I could unplug it to turn it off, but the plug is in an awkward place, difficult to reach. Sure, I can use the digital system to make the requested temperature much lower than the temperature in the room, or click down the timer, but wouldn’t an off switch be simpler?

The digital readout is always on, so it’s sucking up electricity every minute of the day.

Which made me think–our appliances reflect our needs and culture. The first microwave could cook turkeys and came with special browning sauces and powders. Now they have pre-set buttons for heating coffee, warming pizza, popping corn and baking potatoes—because that’s what we use microwaves for. Not turkeys.

Our lives no longer have off switches, either. My friends and clients expect me to be available at all times. They are sure I am checking in their Facebook posts, tweets, and their fan pages. They no longer leave voice mails, I’m supposed to notice I missed a call and phone back. Most of my clients don’t want to email me, that isn’t fast enough, they text me. The idea that I may be in a meeting, teaching or in bed means nothing. I have to be available. I should point out that I’m not an emergency-room physician or the President of the United States, I’m a life coach and a trainer in communications.

The millennials–the group of adults who are now between 18 and 25–have never existed in a time when they could be alone. They will survive little more than 30 seconds of silence in a conversation before talking or texting to someone else.

Thirty-five percent of babies between the age of six weeks and three years have a TV in their room that is on more than two hours a day. We now live in a culture that is always in touch, speaking, connecting. (I’m not sure how much we’re listening. That’s another post.)

In order for me to be fully functional, I need down time. To sleep deeply, to create, to refresh. I have an off switch and I’m willing to use it, even if my space heater can’t.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, trainer, and certified creativity coach.