- Associated Press - Monday, October 29, 2012

CHICAGO — When was the last time you were alone and unwired? Really, truly by yourself. Just you and your thoughts — no cellphone, no tablet, no laptop.

Many of us crave that kind of solitude, though in an increasingly wired world, it’s a rare commodity.

We check texts and emails and update our online status at any hour — when we’re lying in bed or sitting at stoplights or on trains. Sometimes we even do so when we’re on the toilet.

We feel obligated, yes. But we’re also fascinated with this connectedness, constantly tinkering and checking in — an obsession that’s starting to get push-back from a small but growing legion of tech users who are feeling the need to unplug and get away.

“What might have felt like an obligation at first has become an addiction. It’s almost as if we don’t know how to be alone, or we are afraid of what we’ll find when we are alone with ourselves,” said Camille Preston, a tech and communication consultant based in Cambridge, Mass.

“It’s easier to keep doing than it is to be in stillness.”

One could argue that in this economy, it’s wise to be wired constantly — to stay on top of things, to please the boss. Ms. Preston said she knows people who get up in the middle of the night to see if their boss has sent them an email.

But she and others also see more hints of limit-setting going on, a movement of solitude-seekers with roots in the technology industry, ironically enough.

“When I think about truly disconnecting, I look to my truly techy friends,” said Cathy N. Davidson, a Duke University professor who co-directs the school’s doctoral lab in digital knowledge.

Those friends, she said, take long, unwired vacations and set “away messages” telling people to write back after they return. “And they stick to it,” Ms. Davidson said, wishing she could do the same.

“They’ve come up with a socially acceptable convention for their own absence from the world of technology, and everybody recognizes it.”

One organization, called Reboot, has started the Sabbath Manifesto, a call to unplug one day a week to find solitude — or simply to take a day of rest with family and friends.

Bigger corporations, some outside the tech industry, are starting to catch on to this type of limit-setting.

To encourage work-life balance, Volkswagen shuts off mobile email in Germany 30 minutes after employees’ shifts end and turns it back on 30 minutes before their next shift starts.

Google, Nike and The Huffington Post, among others, provide space for employees to take naps or meditate. The idea is that employees who take time to themselves to re-energize will be more productive.

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