The Power of “Off”

The space heater finally died. It was quiet, efficient, warmed the studio which is in a cold part of the house, and after two years, it grew cold and stayed cold.  Two years–average for small appliances. It would cost more to fix than to throw out, so reluctantly I replaced it.

20A-on-off-switchThe 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 how we use microwaves. Turkey? Of course not.

119709197585381818TzeenieWheenie_Power_On_Off_Switch_red_2.svg.medOur 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 text me, emails are not fast enough. 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 neurologist,  I’m a life coach and a trainer who teaches writing, and an artist.

The millennials–the group of adults who are now between 18 and 28–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.

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35 thoughts on “The Power of “Off”

  1. I don’t remember exactly where it was, but it was in some hotel or vacation rental where I asked how to turn the television off and the person showed me the standby button on the remote. And when I asked “No, how do you turn it OFF?” they didn’t seem to understand what I meant.

  2. Dear Quinn,
    So glad to hear you talk about off/down time. I work with at-risk youth ages 14 – 17. Their attention cannot be kept by a movie that doesn’t have near constant noise and action. I am very concerned about the mental/emotional status of the future generations who don’t know how to turn off/relax.

    • My worry is that by the time I’m ready for The Home, it will be a constant-noise, constant-TV, bright flashing light kind of place with crap food. Because that’s what we are telling kids is “normal.”

  3. Turning the off switch..the perfect phrase for that part of my journey these days; made a clear choice to gift myself two uninterrupted hours in the studio every day, a scheduled project waiting there or not…just to be there and turn off the world’s business. Ending the first month with a deep breathing big yes for the gift to self. Writing timed writes each afternoon gives me some silent and apart from contact minutes as well. Taking care of what we need to do is, I believe totally about being able to turn that off switch. Getting to the place of that awareness for me was a long traveled road…the view from here is magnificent and calm and ever so much more centered.
    Quinn, this post was just perfect for me…thank you.

  4. Thanks for sharing this common problem which easily gets overlooked. We used power strips all over our house to control the energy vampire and also to protect again power surges since we often loose power living outside of DC.

  5. Yep, an inline switch or an outlet strip is a quick fix. I catch myself getting impatient and wanting it “now”. I am constantly working not to let that happen. I want to be in the moment as much as possible and have time to enjoy my life, family and friends. It is hard though not to let the age of instant gratification take over and that’s what I see this is all about. Me, me, me……….right now!

  6. Two of the most disturbing trends I see now are the new mothers texting while they are wheeling the kids in the strollers. Sometimes they walk right out in traffic, stroller and all. Also, here in Boston we have had a few twenty-somethings walk right off the subway platform while texting. Some have been killed or severely injured.

  7. You can put a switch on the wire, close to the appliance. You’re a handy lady, you can get one in the hardware store and, if you don’t want to figure out yourself how to attach the wires to the inside of the switch, you can probably find a youtube for it!

  8. It’s so silly the way people latch on to things that drive them nuts! Why would you Twitter, Facebook, etc. if you don’t HAVE TO? As for children with televisions in their rooms…that’s a whole other animal. We all need to remember these things are all choices…not absolutes. Once we realize that, we are free to also reject them. Trust me, life without twittering and plastering my personal info all over Facebook is a nice life. Remember — you have choices!

    • And every choice has a consequence, too. I think a lot of people Tweet and post personal items on FB because other people do. It starts because it feels new, and then it feeds a part of us that feels unheard. Unfortunately, it also feeds a huge data mining industry.

      • I don’t understand — is it the idea that individuals can report on events, or the brevity of the messages, the volume, or something else that bothers you so much?

        • For Twitter, it’s the lack of editors,mostly. And people who lack any sort of analytical skill for a news reporting. Some idiot tried to tell me that Twinkies made only one batch in 1963. Cheesh!

          • What a nimrod! Everybody knows the Twinkie manufacturing cycle was 1957-1961. The factory switched over to making hula hoops at that point. The place is still in operation today, but now they produce pharmaceuticals, Gummi Bears, and Crocs. Two of them are really just byproducts of the other one but I can never remember which.

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