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Ease into a life unplugged

Maybe you considered it before. Closing your accounts. Canceling cable. Falling off the cultural grid, leaving only a shallow Google footprint. Your name might show up online on a roll of blood donors at most. You would finally become calm and self-actualized.

Maybe you considered it more lately, in the wake of elections and the unthinkable shooting in Newtown, Conn., when everyone with a device became an expert in all fields pertaining to everything to have happened at any time, ever. Our collective iPads teetered on the latrine when the 16th person posted a bogus meme, spouted an opinion born perilously outside reality, made you feel terrible, or just didn't know the difference between your/you're/yore.

But unplugging is mysterious. It's romantic and foreign, like Mikhail Baryshnikov on Sex and the City, and we all know how that ended, right, gentlemen? We were in too deep and would end up back in the safe, predictable arms of Mr. Big. Am I right, bros?

Forgetting how to talk to human people with faces and eyebrows, I turned to Twitter. Did anyone plan to turn it all off for the new year?

"Claim TV, e-mail, computer bankruptcy at once?" tweeted one friend. "Trade in for reading books, writing, learn a new language … tempting."

"I don't know what I would talk about with someone like that," said another over G-Chat.

I drove to Haslam's Book Store in St. Petersburg, a treasure trove of first editions, novels, memoirs, reference. Surely someone there had actual secrets, had not Instagrammed the process of making chili, had not, say, instigated an hourlong text fight with a friend over the disputed paternity of Khloe Kardashian (seriously, Hilary, just look at the O.J. Simpson pictures and get back to me).

I parked, checked my Gmail and went inside. A cat named Teacup patrolled the premises. Karen Carroll's favorite kitty, Beowulf, was hiding in the back. They were kindred spirits. Neither had Facebook accounts. Karen, 50, had worked in Haslam's for more than 20 years, ringing up customers who said thanks and turned back to the iPhone. Karen had a flip phone that didn't text or take pictures. She wrote letters, on paper, to real Homo sapiens who opened the letters and read them. Her tech exposure ended with computer Solitaire.

I stared at her.

"If you have a question," I said, "where do you look?"

"I guess I prefer to look in a book."

"So. What do you … do?"

"I'm here until 8 most nights, then I go home, watch the news, have dinner and read for an hour and go to bed."

"Do you watch TV?"

"Not really."

"Do you know who Honey Boo Boo is?"

"I know who she is. I see commercials."

"Do you feel like your imagination is better? Like, you can picture things in books more vividly in your mind because you're not being assaulted by sensory information all the time?"

Karen said sure, but I think she was just being polite, and I was just getting weird.

Karen was not unplugged to make some Eat Pray Love statement. She was not blogging about her quest to be an enlightened neo-Luddite. She was not plinking wistful goodbyes on Facebook, all, "THIS ACCOUNT WILL BE CLOSED BY MORNING," only to never actually close the account.

She was walking the walk. And she wasn't judging anyone. Karen's spirit was something to aspire to, but it wasn't realistic for everyone. It definitely wasn't realistic for someone like me, who hours later posted a filtered picture of shoes on Instagram. "Do you have any advice for people who want to get more unplugged?" I asked Karen.

"No," she said. "Not really."

Curious. No one had all the answers, just like no one will ever really win free Southwest tickets for "liking" Tampax Pearl on Facebook, no matter how much our sisters-in-law pass around the link.

Maybe we just need to diet a little in 2013. Wait five minutes before posting every rant. Trim one reality show from the DVR. Vow not to have a white-hot panic next time a social network changes terms of service. Be cool to others, even if it means not always being right.

We probably won't achieve Transcendentalism as a result. But we might pop in the Rosetta Stone Italian disc and let it roll for a few minutes, because after all, that Here Comes Honey Boo Boo episode is a rerun anyway.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8857. Follow her at @stephhayes on Twitter. She's not quitting.

Ease into a life unplugged 01/05/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 10:19am]

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