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.

22 thoughts on “The Vanishing “Off” Switch

  1. Whatever happened to quiet? Did he leave because of all the noise? Maybe he realized no one cared any longer about him; and he was tired of being seen as an eternal bore. I miss him! He made me feel wonderful,
    and I enjoyed the time we spent together. If you see
    him somewhere let him know there are some of us
    that still care…

  2. Oh yes, Quinn. This post resonates with me. This is such a huge issue! I’m of the quiet people. I need it, crave it, must have it and get it for myself. I’m writing a post about this and will let you know when it is up! Via FB, Twitter, text, email and smoke signals 🙂

    • Yeah, I am right with you as one of the “quiet people.” Oh, sure, I can teach and get up and speak, but then I need to come home and be by myself. Can’t wait to get your take on it. I’ll link to it when I discover it. Which I have a feeling I will.

  3. I had a doctor appt this morning and there were several people in the waiting room when I arrived. Never a good sign when you arrive just a few minutes before your appointment time. These were all adults and of the 5, three were texting and one was playing a pocket poker game (or some other game that was making some very annoying noises continuously). When I finally got called into the back, I immediately noticed that he now has tv’s in his exam rooms! He has signs posted asking to please excuse any delays and he will give you the same attention and care very shortly. I imagine he put the tv’s in because of the delays. I immediately asked the girl to turn the sound off. I noticed he came in with the remote and automatically pointed it to turn the sound off. I carry my sketchbook to entertain myself while waiting and I got lots of sketching and doodling done today while I waited, which was a lot more pleasant and relaxing than listening to local news or CNN! I’m thinking of suggesting if they are going to keep the tv’s on, maybe they could put some of those relaxing videos of the beach or forest or rain! Maybe people would be a bit more relaxed and tolerate his delays a bit better!

    • I asked the dermatologist’s receptionist to turn off the TV and she said, “other people like it,” and I said, “As long as I’m alone in the waiting room, please turn it off. If someone comes in and requests it, you can always turn it on.” I thought it was weird to have it on for now reason. I’d brought a book.

  4. I agree – my DD cannot be alone… I find it odd that she doesn’t read, unless it’s BBM or instructions that are work-related. She doesn’t like her won company. We are polar opposites, lol! I am a very sociable person, but I often crave “downtime” or “me-time”.
    I thoroughly enjoy your posts, Quinn, they always make me think!

  5. This is so absolutely true! I crave quiet and solitude; my husband always has the TV or his PS3 on. My DD21 props the grandbay up with a bottle and the TV. OY! What have we come to??!

  6. KILL THE TV! that is why i do not like facebook, twitter, whatever else ther eis out there. I am a social person, but especially when I’m in the studio, I don’t want BUZZ intruding. why are folks so afraid of being by themselves? maybe they need a deeper look inside

  7. The new fan sucking electricity even when “turned off” is a small issue for any one household, but a big issue collectively.We’ve calculated the amount of electricity, worldwide, used by mobile phones we’ve sold. We’ve sold well more than a billion of them (!!) and the totals kind of made jaws drop. So:
    – Now when you unplug a Nokia device from its charger, it reminds you to unplug the charger.
    – Not all Nokia devices come with their own chargers any more.
    – Mobile phone manufacturers (well, some) have gotten together to agree on a standard for chargers so hopefully you could have just ONE charger that you forget to unplug, instead of several.

    Here’s something I do: many things that “don’t turn off” are plugged not into the wall but into outlet strips, which have on/off switches. You have to keep the outlet strip accessible so you can flip it off, of course. It’s a bit of a tug-of-war between decor and efficiency.

    By the way, a fan is pretty much just an electric motor, and those should last a lot more than 2 years!

    • I’m working hard on using the off switch on the surge protector. It means my laptop will not be charging at night. Does that mean I’m wearing out the battery by not keeping it plugged in at night? After all, I’d be cycling through a use every day. I generally keep it plugged in all the time.

      • I believe the new Lithium batteries aren’t affected by not being plugged in. They might even be slightly improved — that was certainly the case with the previous generation of battery technology; their life was reduced by being plugged in all the time.

  8. “The fan finally died,” I read and think “What! Her fan has FINALLY died! Must have been a really annoying fan for her to write that. Or maybe the fan had some horribly painful illness or something.” But then I read on and realise that it’s about an appliance, not about a human who’s your fan! 😀

    But you’re right about the off switch. It may not be that much electricity per appliance but things add up. And it’s the same with life: if you don’t have the off switch then small things start piling up. Things that you could manage with ease if you only had that switch somewhere.

    I’ve been having a great time reading your blog. Thank you for that off switch!

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