February 16, 2023

The Freedom of Becoming Unavailable.


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I was talking to a friend the other day, and as the conversation became interesting, she had to go, at which point she said she was going to message me later.

I told her I was spending the evening with my boyfriend, and although I might read her message, I probably wouldn’t reply in depth until the next day. I don’t like to spend too much of my time with him chatting on the phone to friends. My time with him is for him.

I told her this, and she replied to me:

“Just because we carry the internet everywhere with us doesn’t mean that we have to be available to all people at all times.”

And I just thought, yes.


Here in 2023, we are under so much digital pressure.

I used to only check emails when I sat down with my laptop, maybe once every couple of days. Now I carry my gmail account around on the phone with me. I still don’t check it every day, but I have been admonished for that. More than once, I’ve missed emails from school. Last week, I missed an email from one of the kid’s teachers telling me she wouldn’t be at school until after lunchtime the next day. Luckily, another parent screenshot the email and put it into our WhatsApp group. I wouldn’t have seen it in time otherwise.

I work in a café; I don’t work online, in an office, or run a business—when did I have to start checking my emails every hour of every day?

So on the day in question, I was thankful for the WhatsApp group on my phone.

But even these groups can become an intrusion.

Many of us in western societies have at least one messaging app on our smartphones—and this leads us to another important point. These apps don’t just show us our message history—they show us when others are or have been online, and when our messages were delivered and opened.

The incidence of friends, lovers, and co-workers seeing when someone has read a message and then getting upset when that person doesn’t reply within a certain time frame is higher than it needs to be.

Why hasn’t she replied?

Is he angry with me?

And because of this, Google search is full of ways to hide that messages have been read or even delivered.

It’s as easy to hide from someone as it is to “stalk” them.

How did we get here?

Yes, there are benefits to the huge leaps in communication technology of recent years, and to be honest, I am thankful for it. I enjoy social media, I use quite a few apps, and I love being connected to my loved ones who are far away.

Yes, to being able to message each other whenever we want to.

No, to expecting anyone to be instantly available to us just because they have opened a message on their phone.

There are, of course, exceptions. Parents of children and younger teens need to know they are safe if they are out alone. My mum still needs to know I’m safe, and even more so now that I’m a mother myself, I respect and understand that. She is happy with a quick reply. I told my kids, “If you don’t feel like texting, a two-second voice message is okay.”

We all need a break sometimes.

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” ~ Maya Angelou.

We all need to tune out sometimes.

In the mornings, I get up at 6:45 so I can do a bit of yoga before waking the kids up. I do not even look at the phone until that’s done. I know it will be full of expectations that I don’t want to meet first thing in the morning.

I love chatting with friends and in my family group. But it becomes a challenge if we are expected to be responsive within someone else’s timeframe.

We end up trying to spread ourselves too thin, trying to please too many people, and getting overwhelmed.

And that does us no good.

No wonder so many of us feel stressed and anxious all the time.

We are allowed to take our time out in whatever form and whenever we want to.

We have the right to choose to whom, and to what, we want to give our time to.

And for our own sanity, we should endeavor to do so.

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” ~ Anne Lamott


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