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Meet Claudia Erickson of Unplugged Village

Today we’d like to introduce you to Claudia Erickson.

Claudia, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
It feels like I’m a pretty average person. I’ve been married to my husband for 21 years and am a mom to 2 kids (and 2 dogs). I’ve worked on various public health campaigns since the mid-1990’s. In recent years, I had been getting more involved with technology and social media to promote programs. I found that the more I was on technology, the more I wanted to check it constantly. I also found that surprising, as I knew better. I had worked on a cyber-safety program in the past and was well aware of the downsides of too much tech time.

However, I still found myself totally wrapped up in it. I found that my propensity to be a little ADD and a workaholic paired up so easily with the addictive nature of technology, and that was a bad combination. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. As a kid, I was pretty well glued to the TV, marinating in shows like the Brady Bunch and Family Ties. I liked being entertained, liked escapism and turned to it often. Today’s TV is a whole new animal with amazing programming on a 24/7 basis.

Add in things like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Google and a person hardly has a reason to get up from the couch ever again. Many may not. Adults now spend over 9 hours a day consuming media (Common Sense Media 2016). Moreover, about ¼ of U.S. adults (39% of those ages 18 – 29) say they are ‘almost constantly’ online (Pew survey Jan 2018). The news frequently talks about the many downsides to being online too much, but somehow so many of us can’t resist the urge to do it anyway. I was no exception and wondered why that was.

Recently, tech leaders like Tristan Harris with the Center for Humane Technology have said that it’s because our devices are designed to be addicting. Tech companies regularly incorporate persuasive psychology techniques to keep us engaged with their products and to keep us coming back for more. Humans only have so much attention and there are only 24 hours in each day. How much of those will be spent binge watching on Netflix, checking Facebook or updating LinkedIn? It’s like a gambler having a mobile slot machine in his pocket that is always calling out.

If you’ve been on Facebook for 8 years, they have 8 years worth of data on your buying habits, political and social interests. Advertisers value this data and use it to market their products to you perfectly. Recently, the pressure has increased as there are more and more companies competing for every hour of our day. Technology is super valuable and engaging but our brains need a break. I had been weaning off of Facebook and TV a few years ago, but when it became a focus at my job I took it as an opportunity to dive in and really have the full experience and learn from it. I got what I was looking for and more. It took little time for me to get sucked in.

In no time, my phone was the last thing I looked at before I went to bed and the first thing I checked in the morning. My health wasn’t great – I had anxiety, “tech neck,” back issues, great difficulty with focus and concentration and was always distracted. My family time was not what I hoped for and I found we were all growing farther apart on our respective gadgets. I really didn’t like where we were headed. From a public health perspective, I could see people everywhere in the same boat, super engaged with their devices and not those around them.

I worried what people were missing out on, what kids weren’t learning, the conversations we weren’t having and the impact on our society as a whole. I vowed to make a shift in my life. Surprisingly, that did NOT include throwing out all my technology, moving to the woods or even doing a fabulous digital detox. Technology is something I use every day and I needed a moderate plan that would still work with my life. I took inventory of how I was spending my time using an app time tracker. Then I figured out what I wanted to be doing with my time instead and started with some small changes that would make me check my phone less often.

One of the easiest adjustments was that I started wearing a watch again. Checking a cell phone for the time is quicker – unless of course you end up also checking your Facebook, SnapChat, email, and Linked In accounts. Likewise, using a cell phone as an alarm is often no time saver and leaves you open to blue lights, pings and notifications all of which impede getting good sleep. Thankfully, they still sell alarm clocks. Ten dollars and a trip to Target solved that problem. My sleep improved, and I started waking up feeling more rested. Next, I went about making my phone less appealing. I deleted a bunch of apps, set my phone to grayscale and moved things like social media away from the home screen.

Looking at my priorities I saw that I needed to replace some of the time I was spending with tech on other activities that were healthier and helped reduce my stress. Spending time outdoors always helps clear my head, so I made a point of doing more gardening and taking more walks with my dog. To help with my focus and anxiety, I increased my time with yoga and started reading more books. There were some pretty immediate benefits to these changes and I hoped that I might inspire those around me to make a few changes as well. I’m happy to report that this new habit is a bit contagious.

Best of all, just doing a couple of things feels pretty good and makes you want to do more. I felt like I was on to something and I wanted to share this process with others.

When I formed my company, The Unplugged Village, I wasn’t altogether sure where it was headed. I felt a little like Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams. I quit my job with the local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and had some burning ideas of what I wanted to see happen. Nothing like this existed in San Diego, but I just had this gut instinct that if I started building something that helped people unplug that others would join me. Everywhere I went, I would share what I was doing with total strangers.

Invariably, the message resonated and after talking with people, I would get follow up emails with offers of help, articles or funny cartoons attached. The conversation frequently ended with “let me know how I can help!” The old adage “It takes a village” kept popping into my head and that’s how the Unplugged Village was born.

Has it been a smooth road?
It’s been a road full of twists and turns for sure, but it has been a great adventure so far and I welcome the process.

That said, I have had some challenges. Most notably is the challenge to use social media to promote an unplugged program. It’s hard to tell people, “Hey, it’s good to take tech breaks” via social media but it’s also pretty clear that is the main avenue for promotions and reaching people these days. It’s an important tool and it’s nearly impossible to operate a business without it. Ironically, I couldn’t reach people with my message without using it.

An additional struggle is that the Facebook algorithm doesn’t always like my posts, so they don’t always get as much visibility as they might if I was promoting puppy dogs or some social justice cause. It’s also forced me to get a little creative and more grassroots such as promoting Tech Break Tuesday nights through local restaurants.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Hopefully, I inspire people to unplug more often. Unplugged Village is in its infancy, so I am still watching it unfold. Ultimately, it is a place people can go to find information on why it’s important to unplug and take tech breaks. It’s also a resource to find places to go that support that habit. If you go to a restaurant, airport or waiting room and most people there have their phones out, there’s a good chance you will do the same. It’s hard to resist the urge, so it helps if there are places that support alternate activities. On my website, you’ll find fun, unplugged things to do in San Diego for families or individuals. Everything from Free Forest Schools in Rancho Penasquito’s to Yoga on the Cliffs in Ocean Beach and Escape Rooms around town.

I also offer workshops and consultations to help people kick-start a new habit. Down the road, I hope to start a blog and do some PodCasts. The element of Unplugged Village I am most proud of so far is Tech Break Tuesday. I was bothered by the number of restaurants that participate in what I call “distracted dining.” This is where restaurants have lots of TV’s or super loud music and people all zoned out on their phones. The noise level has increased over recent years as restaurants have invested in more TVs often out of a desire to seem busy and exciting even on slow nights. Pair that up with the current industrial décor style (minus things like tablecloths and carpeting that used to absorb noise) and you have a loud place conducive to watching a basketball game but not to have a quiet meal with meaningful conversations.

Recently, Consumer Reports and Zagat both found that the top complaint about restaurant diners was noise. I found a few restaurants in other parts of the country that were successful in doing screen free dining nights and I decided to give that a try here in La Mesa and created some fun signage. A new Scottish Pub called FourPenny House was eager to give it a go and we had our first Tech Break Tuesday in July. It was the biggest Tuesday night they’ve had with over a 50% increase in sales. We knew right away we were on to something and that people were hungry for this sort of thing. There are now multiple locations in La Mesa where people can go enjoy an unplugged night and some offer discounts or specials to incentivize people to take the break.

In addition, local businesses, Amethyst Moon, Laura Lothian Real Estate and Penske Ford La Mesa were all eager to support this program and make it happen. The next Tech Break Tuesday is Sept 25th at FourPenny House, Centifonti’s, San Pasqual’s Wine Tasting Room, Trattoria Tiramisu and the Lunch Box. I’d like to start an Unplugged Dining Network in the near future to make it easy to find screen free dining. Check our website for details about the September event.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I think San Diego is a great place to start a business like mine. We have such a foodie culture here and people are pretty progressive. I feel very supported.

Pricing:

  • Consultations – $125 for 90 min, $90 for an additional hr.
  • Workshops – Depends on the size of the group -contact Claudia for details. “Control Your Tech” workshop is Sept 18 at Fourpenny House Restaurant 2-4pm. Cost is $45 which includes tea, scones and cookies.

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Kathlyn Brooksher

    September 20, 2018 at 5:39 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful article! So happy for Claudia Erickson and Unplugged Village!

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