Read Something Longer Than 140 Characters

Unplugging from the conveniences and obsessions of our age can be difficult, but not impossible. For those of you who have a demanding boss or needful relationships or lack the will to do away with the email, texts, tweets, voicemail, posts, SMS, likes and status messages there may still be (some) hope without having to go completely cold turkey.

While we would recommend you retreat to a quiet cabin by a still pond in the dark woods, the tips below may help you unwind if you’re frazzled but shun the idea of a remote hideaway. While you’re at it, why not immerse yourself in a copy of Walden.

From the Wall Street Journal:

You may never have read “Walden,” but you’re probably familiar with the premise: a guy with an ax builds a cabin in the woods and lives there for two years to tune out the inessential and discover himself. When Henry David Thoreau began his grand experiment, in 1845, he was about to turn 28—the age of a typical Instagram user today. Thoreau lived with his parents right before his move. During his sojourn, he returned home to do laundry.

Thoreau’s circumstances, in other words, weren’t so different from those of today’s 20-somethings—which is why seeking tech advice from a 19th-century transcendentalist isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us,” he wrote in “Walden.” That statement still rings true for those of us who have lived with the latest high-tech wonders long enough to realize how much concentration they end up zapping. “We do not use the Facebook; it uses us,” we might say.

But even the average social-media curmudgeon’s views on gadgetry aren’t as extreme as those of Thoreau. Whereas he saw inventions “as improved means to an unimproved end,” most of us genuinely love our iPhones, Instagram feeds and on-demand video. We just don’t want them to take over our lives, lest we forget the joy of reading without the tempting interruption of email notifications, or the pleasure of watching just one good episode of a television show per sitting.

Thankfully, we don’t have to go off the grid to achieve more balance. We can arrive at a saner modern existence simply by tweaking a few settings on our gadgets and the services we rely on. Why renounce civilization when technology makes it so easy to duck out for short stretches?

Inspired by the writings of Thoreau, we looked for simple tools—the equivalent of Thoreau’s knife, ax, spade and wheelbarrow—to create the modern-day equivalent of a secluded cabin in the woods. Don’t worry: There’s still Wi-Fi.

1. Manage your Facebook ‘Friendships’

As your Facebook connections grow to include all 437 of the people you sort of knew in high school, it’s easy to get to the point where the site’s News Feed becomes a hub of oversharing—much of it accidental. (Your co-worker probably had no idea the site would post his results of the “Which Glee Character Are You?” quiz.) Adjusting a few settings will bring your feed back to a more Thoreauvian state.

Facebook tries to figure out which posts will be most interesting to you, but nothing beats getting in there yourself and decluttering by hand. The process is like playing Whac-A-Mole, with your hammer aimed at the irrelevant posts that pop up in your News Feed.

Start by removing serial offenders: On the website, hover your cursor over the person’s name as it appears above a post, hit the “Friends” button that pops up and then uncheck “Show in News Feed” to block future posts. If that feels too drastic, click “Acquaintances” from the pop-up screen instead. This relegates the person to a special “friends list” whose updates will appear lower in the News Feed. (Fear not, the person won’t be notified about either of the above demotions.)

You can go a step further and scale back the types of updates you receive from those you’ve added to Acquaintances (as well as any other friends lists you create). Hover your cursor over the News Feed’s “Friends” heading then click “More” and select the list name. Then click the “Manage Lists” button and, finally, “Choose Update Types.”

Unless you’re in the middle of a fierce match of Bejeweled Blitz, you can safely deselect “Games” and most likely “Music and Videos,” too. Go out on a limb and untick “Comments and Likes” to put the kibosh on musings and shout-outs about other people’s posts. You’ll probably want to leave the mysteriously named “Other Activity” checked, though; while it includes some yawn-inducing updates, the category also encompasses announcements of major life events, like engagements and births.

3. Read Something Longer Than 140 Characters

Computers, smartphones and tablets are perfect for skimming TMZ, but for hunkering down with the sort of thoughtful text Thoreau would endorse, a dedicated ereader is the tech equivalent of a wood-paneled reading room. Although there are fancier models out there, the classic Kindle and Kindle Paperwhite are still tough to beat. Because their screens aren’t backlit, they don’t cause eye strain the way a tablet or color ereader can. While Amazon sells discounted models that display advertisements (each costs $20 less), don’t fall for the trap: The ads undermine the tranquility of the device. (If you already own an ad-supported Kindle, remove the ads for $20 using the settings page.) Also be sure to install the Send to Kindle plug-in for the Chrome and Firefox Web browers. It lets you beam long articles that you stumble upon online to the device, magically stripping away banner ads and other Web detritus in the process.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Henry David Thoreau, 1856. Courtesy of Wikipedia.