The Vanishing “Off” Switch

The fan finally died. As this weeks temperatures will hover around 115 degrees, the fan’s failure is disappointing. Of course I have air conditioning, but my desk is next to single-pane windows, and the area heats up even with the AC on–which for me means 84 degrees.

I don't want to always be on.

The fan was quiet, efficient, put out a lot of air, 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 timer, four speed settings, an oscillating switch. . . 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 click down the timer, but wouldn’t an off switch be simpler?

The digital light showing it’s sucking up electricity is always on, so it’s sucking up electricity day and night.

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. Heating. Re-heating. Not cooking 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 their Facebook posts, Tweets, and 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 holder of the other key for the doomsday machine. I’m a life coach, a writer, and a communication trainer.

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 can’t take more than 30 seconds of silence before resorting to a call, text, or game. 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 accompanied by sound–my bank has a TV that is always on, as does the gas pump at the gas station, and, to my great disappointment, my favorite sushi bar. There is always noise. Most people find it comforting, it’s a sign that they are not alone. (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 listen deeply, to refresh. I have an off switch and I’m willing to use it, even if my fan can’t.

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