on the benefits of being unplugged

There's a saying, possibly apocryphal, that actors act for free, but get paid to wait. If you've ever spent any time on a set, this will probably make a lot of sense to you; a day on the set usually features extended periods of boredom, punctuated by brief moments of terror — oh, wait, that's something else. My bad. Let me try again: filming a television show or movie usually long hours of inaction, broken up by all-too brief moments of actually working. Contrary to popular belief, film sets just aren't that exciting (unless we're blowing something up), and though a job where you clock in for 12 hours but actually "work" for 5 probably sounds awesome, most actors I know (including myself) would rather work straight through and perform all day, if given the option.

Different actors do different things during these breaks in filming. Depending on how long they are, some of us will go to our dressing rooms to relax or learn lines. Others will go to our cast chairs to read a book or learn lines. There's always the trip to craft service to graze while we learn lines, too.

My time on Eureka this season didn't feature that many extended breaks, because the assistant directors did a pretty great job building a schedule that was efficient and focused. There were only a couple days where I had long hours of waiting (which I put to questionably good use), but I pretty much went to work, worked, and went home.

Most of my scenes this season were with Neil Grayston and Felicia Day because [SPOILER]. The three of us are, as the kids say, wired, so during our breaks in filming, it was pretty common for us to retire to our cast chairs with our phones, where we'd sit together and read amusing twitter messages to each other, reference each other in our simultweets, and do other activities that, to an untrained observer, appeared solitary, when they actually weren't. (Erica Cerra was constantly teasing us about sitting within a few feet of each other and talking without ever making eye contact.) It was all amusing and fun, especially when we made stupid cell phone videos together.

One day, though, we worked at a location where there was no internet or cell coverage. As it happened, it was also a day where pretty much everyone in the cast was filming the same scene. During our breaks, we all hung out together and, unable to connect to the Internet, had actual face to face conversations that didn't involve LOLCats or some funny comment on Twitter.

It was, in other words, just like the old days, and … well, I really liked it. I felt a connection to my friends and fellow actors that was stronger than usual, that I didn't even realize I'd been missing. I recall wonderful conversations with Joe Morton about going to see the movies in an actual theater versus watching them at home, and fascinating conversations with Niall Matter about his time working on oil rigs in Edmonton. It was one of my favorite days on the set this past season.

Since that day, about a month ago, I've made conscious efforts to turn off my cell phone, get offline, and spend more time back in the analog world. The first few weeks of this were tough, because I kept feeling like I was missing something important (and there have been countless times I've thought, "Oh! I have to Twitter that!" only to realize that I can't. This is not a bad thing.) I have to tell you, I'm happier for it. It's really nice and quite convenient to be plugged in all the time, but, for me at least, it comes at a price that I wasn't even aware of until I wasn't paying it. If you can handle going offline, even if it's only for an afternoon, I highly recommend it; there's a lot of people and world out there that you don't even know you're missing.

37 thoughts on “on the benefits of being unplugged”

  1. Well to be fair there are very few people on a set that work continuously in my experience.
    As one of my friends in Chicago used to say “Be like a shark, when you can be seen be moving, and when you aren’t moving, don’t be seen”
    But then again I always found that crew and Talent seemed to separate for lunch, but that may have just been on the stuff I worked on, which to be fair, wasn’t episodic television.

  2. As I sit here, plugged in, dog staring at me to walk him, kids coming home soon to see me staring at the computer, I realize “My goodness–Wheaton is right again!”. I’m logging off now, thank you.

  3. I spend time offline usually on Sundays, when usually the entire family is home and we sit around, play games, goof off or watch TV. I usually don’t even turn on the computer on those days. Not even to check my email.

  4. 1) Based on how well I do in other kinds of waiting situations (doctors offices, airports) I don’t think I could possibly be an actor even if I had the face & skills. On the other hand, I used to be pretty good at waiting during ballet rehearsals because it was a familiar setting with friends. But even with friends, it seems challenging for regular work.
    2) I’m a wee bit of a twitterholic with 100-200 tweets a day as far as I can tell. But I’ve found that if I pick up with my book and/or crafting and move to another part of the room without bringing any of my devices, my brain really enjoys the peace of focusing on what I’m doing instead of working/reading for 5 or even 2 minutes and then looking back at Twitter to see what everyone’s saying.

  5. That’s why my cell goes off after 5pm, unless I’m actually out and about and “on call” for the kids. I’ve received numerous “why do you have a phone if it’s not on!?” comments from people who don’t get the point.
    I’m also laughing at myself for clicking on your tweet right away.

  6. I used to go to a French language immersion camp; part of the experience was being surrounded only by the language, so any electronic equipment was contraband, as were any english-language texts, etc. The biggest effect of this, though, was to separate us from our phones, and get us back into the real world. It’s fantastic to run around in the woods, slowly coming to comprehend a different language (or get to practise it, in my case) and being fully in the moment. I strongly recommend the experience to anyone, at any time.

  7. Will this is so true. I recently went to a concert for a band I really love called Black Veil Brides and they were the 2nd of the 3 acts set to play and every single person that was there for BVB sat around tweeting and texting. Then when BVB came on some girl who was there for the next band blocked my view and wouldn’t budge for me to get closer to the front row, and she was merely texting. I saw part of one saying she was bored waiting for The Birthday Massacre to perform. It made me annoyed, but once the event was over I thought about it long and hard and realized most people today cannot even function without their communication device. (computer, iphone, droid, etc) It wont surprise me to find “Communication Free Zones” in the future where people can interact in peace without the dreaded cellphone, text or netbook interrupting actual conversation where you have to physically look people in the eye when you talk.
    Walt Disney wanted people mover sidewalks in the future, I want communication free zones.
    PS: I know I give you some crap on twitter sometimes but its all in good fun. You really are one of my favorite actors. Feel free to refollow me if you wish @bvbmom thanks for reading if you read this far and I hope you and Anne have a wonderful day.
    PSS: lucky dog for getting to be friends with Nathan Fillon. I envy that.

  8. I completely agree with your post. Whenever I go on vacation, I have the “must tweet” reflex but after a day or two, I find that I quite easily turn to my trusty journal/notebook, which I’ve been keeping around specifically for this purpose.
    I think you can find a good balance between being connected and disconnected, and yes, connecting even when there’s little enjoyment in it is a form compensation, in my opinion, for a lack of socialising – I should know, I do it all the time. But it’s a whole lot easier to be connected to nothing than to be disconnected.
    Often, I wish I could disconnect from my computer more often… if only I didn’t work off of it!

  9. In the world of extras the waits are even longer and I’ve met some great people in the holding areas and had a great time. So far Leverage has been the most fun (and craft services for them is the best!) made some good contacts in the acting world and just had a blast while unplugged.
    I try to have unplugged time each day and just go analog with a book.

  10. My best friends and I are all iPhone nuts. But we ended up making a rule that the phone stays in the pocket when we’re together. I’ve always been old-fashioned; I feel that “Be Here Now” is the best advice so I always give my friends my full attention. But it was the one person in the group without a smartphone who finally made the no-phone rule stick.
    It’s so hard to find the time to get together, we don’t want to waste that time being somewhere else in our heads.

  11. I tend to go unplugged at work, and I occasionally take a day or two a week to just set the computer down. It is tough when running an online business, but it is worth it for my sanity.
    I guess the fact that you have been going unplugged is the reason you are nigh impossible to reach. Oh well, I’ll keep trying. :)

  12. I’m slightly unplugged at the moment (without a smartphone) and it has been BRUTAL! LOL! I think I need to disconnect more often because I really shouldn’t feel this desperate for my smarthphone, right?
    I alway enjoy your blog posts and it’s funny how this one comes when I’m unwillingly slightly unplugged. :)

  13. oddly enough, I often get scolded by my friends that I’m not constantly connected to Twitter – especially on weekends – so I’m not always up on the latest thing they said. It hit a breaking point when my husband asked me if I’d read his latest blog entry about issues he was having at work rather than talking to me about issues he was having at work.

  14. One of the strange (crazy?) reasons I look forward to winters in the Northeast: there is a chance a winter storm will knock the power out.
    Sure, it sucks not having heat/hot water for a day or two, but it makes you go unplugged via force. Worse comes to worse, you hole up with some friends who have some kind of heat source, and room to spare. You bring out the kerosene heater, light some candles or lanterns, and play card games, board games, tell stories…no video games, no phones (cell phones kept off to conserve batteries in case of emergency, of course), no television. Semi-perfect.
    This happened a two years ago, after a major ice storm. We made an interesting day/evening/most of next day of it then bailed ship when we realized we wouldn’t have power for days (indoor temp of 45 and falling). Definitely sucky, but also one of the most interesting/cool social nights that year.

  15. Well done on that.
    Even when I’m with people, twitter will be involved. When I met up with friends for karaoke fun on Saturday night we would tweet comments and cellphone photos and come up with hastags like #cowbellhero.
    The only time I’m really disconnected is when I visit my parents as they don’t have a permanent broadband connection so I get a lot more interacting with people and reading done.

  16. There’s a saying, possibly apocryphal, that actors act for free, but get paid to wait.
    Musicians (at least, the ones that can’t afford roadies) have a similar saying: we play for free, and get paid to carry all the equipment.

  17. You have articulated one of the main reasons I cling to my old technology. My seven year old cell phone is pretty much like the Apple II in terms of interface, so though I may have a phone on me, I am spared the compulsion to tweet.

  18. I’ve been disconnected from a couple good friends to connectedness. That is, they’re so connected to online worlds/communities that they would chose them over spending rl time with me.
    To be fair, I kinda started it by getting lost in my job and family. Nevertheless there is often a Friday night (we used to game on Fridays) that I wonder if I should give them a call and pull them offline for an evening.

  19. Also, I found that when I wrote, I wrote best when I had moments of silence (non-connectedness). Moments that allowed my brain to organize and reorganize the thoughts in my head into interesting patterns, leaving me with phrases and sentences I could use to write with.
    I have significantly fewer of those moments.
    If God were to grant my prayers, there wouldn’t be millions of dollars at my feet, there’d just be time.
    More time to be connected – to play games that interest me, More time to be disconnected – to be with friends and family,
    More time to experience the world in all its glory,
    More time to write the great Canadian story,
    More time to live and love and learn,
    More time to let my candle burn.

  20. I’ve been taking walks in the mornings, almost every day if I can. I have my phone mostly ’cause I use a program to track my time and length, but it’s in my pocket and not looked at. That’s probably the best time of my day, me, nature, my camera and nothing else between.

  21. Remember in elementary school when we had All Day Reading Day? We’d show up in PJs or similarly comfortable clothing, sleeping bags and pillows in hand, and we’d read. All. Day.
    I decided recently to give myself an All Day Reading Day. I didn’t even turn on my computer. I read all of Stephenson’s Snow Crash and a little Sherlock Holmes that day, and I must say I was more than refreshed the nest day when I logged on to my blog and feeds. It’s so worth it.

  22. That is indeed some very sage advice. Since I work full time with my online sales business I have to stay online almost 24/7 just in case some customer doesn’t get their package and starts sending me irate emails on a Sunday afternoon. However when I get my time away, I stay completely unplugged. A few weeks ago I was hanging out in SF with some friends and was enjoying the conversation on the way down…but once we got on the BART…their phones came out and they were tweeting and texting away like madmen. I don’t use either service and my phone was off…and here I am thinking how strange that a former IT tech and video game addict is sitting here admiring the view, meditating a little and contemplating his life, while his non techie friends are totally and completely engrossed in their cyber lives. I was all but invisible to them, and all I could do was smile on the inside. :)
    Thank Jeebus for the weekends when I go visit my family…spending time with my niece and nephew and forgetting all about the internet for a few days is almost like heaven on earth. I do make my living on the ‘net and it has also helped me occasionally find dates, but I always remember a vacation I had a few years ago when I went away for 10 days and didn’t touch a computer or anything even remotely related to one. When I got back home…and as the 100+ messages started flooding my inbox, I realized that as much as I love computers, I also would love never having to see one again.
    I think one day when I’m old I’m going to buy a little cabin in the woods and live the simple life…dirt floors, no running water, but maybe a solar panel so I can watch a little TNG now and then. 😉

  23. Geezuz, Wheaton, I preach that to my students everyday when their cellphone beeps. You may be preaching it to *this* choir, but I am preaching it to the un-atoning masses.

  24. I found that getting offline isn’t enough. You also have to reconnect with people in some way. Like walks in the park with the wife, football or basketball with the kids, even finding a secluded place to play DND with friends with actual dice, paper and pencils.

  25. That’s one of the things I love about Scouting. No cell phones allowed on campouts. They are locked in the cars during the day and are only there in case of emergencies. The rest is work and play and conversations, face-to-face. It’s a pleasant change, even for a “wired” girl like me. :)

  26. I find that staring at a screen all day befuddles my mind, no matter what the screen is: tv, computer, phone, iDevice.
    Since I work with computers for a living when I get home I find it hard to get myself psyched to get on a computer to play a game or even enjoy the passivity of watching the boob tube. However, most of the time, this doesn’t stop me.
    Recently and since it’s that time of year, I’ve taken to cooking for a few hours to ease my mind out of that screen-staring daze. In the spring I turn to outside work when the weather is nice or go for a walk or bike ride. In the summer it’s mostly bike rides and when I have to, mowing the grass, also, cooking on the grill. I love summer. Fall, raking the leave and back to cooking again. Winter, well unless there’s snow on the ground, winter is rougher all the way ’round. Try these and YMMV.

  27. I actually just got back from an “unplug and recharge” vacation in Newport, OR. I went to a hotel with no TV, phones or internet–a “hotel for book lovers”–that sits right on Nye Beach. I spent time knitting, reading, writing (on paper with a pen), talking to people and watching the waves crash all along the coast. It was divine! I came back refreshed and renewed.

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