Unplugged from the World

11 Mar

The Day of Unplugging was a tough culture shock. Even after learning the lesson from the happiness tracker that I can improve my mood by spending my time at home interacting more with my roommates instead of watching TV in my room, I have not changed my habits enough to feel comfortable without the internet to browse and television to watch before going to sleep. Without my usual leisure activities to lean on, I did a lot of reading. I got ahead on the readings for my classes, read a magazine I had lying around for over a week, and even read a few chapters of a novel, a luxury normally reserved only for vacations. Unplugging made me realize that I rely on technology for even my most basic needs, like shopping for clothes and food. Instead of ordering food from delivery.com, I decided to cook for myself and took a trip to the grocery store. The trip made me feel really accomplished because I not only got myself dinner, but I was able to stock up on meals and snacks that I do not usually have around.

Being so productive felt good, but other aspects of being unplugged did not feel so good. One issue I faced was feeling very vulnerable while I was in the grocery store and did not have music to listen to. Sharing such close quarters with strangers without the buffer of headphones was uncomfortable. Though I am always very polite and say the proper “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” as I pass by people, I can usually barely hear myself over my music and only really say it to be polite.  Without music, I was really self-conscious about talking to the strangers around me, and cared about their response. Although grocery shopping was not painful or stressful, it was definitely weird and uncomfortable, and I don’t think being unplugged really improved my grocery shopping experience.

The worst part about unplugging was definitely the isolation I felt as a result. With a smart phone, I am constantly connected. Even if I am not conversing with people, I always have social media to see what they are up to. If I am wondering what someone is doing, they are never more than a text message away. Without this world of connections in my pocket, I felt really helpless. I think this comes back to Daniel Gilbert’s discussion of control in Stumbling on Happiness. I use my smart phone to organize my connections and my schedule, to get news and information, and of course to communicate via calls, texts, and social media. I think organizing everything into this one place is feels empowering—with my smart phone, I can reach anyone I want and find out any information I need at all times. When I lost that control during the Day of Unplugging, I felt disconnected from the network that belongs in my pocket. Gilbert concludes “gaining control can have a positive impact on one’s health and well-being, but losing control can be worse than never having had any at all” (23). This loss of control made me uneasy, but the Day of Unplugging had many benefits as well.

If I had not already had concrete plans with a friend, going out would have been nearly impossible. But since I planned ahead and knew exactly when and where to meet her, the luxury of being totally uninterrupted was really nice. It felt good to be able to have a discussion without ever losing my train of thought or missing something she said due to the distraction of checking my phone, and without ever having to put our conversation on pause to respond to someone somewhere else. In the chapter “Growing Up Tethered” in her book Alone Together, Sherry Turkle interviews a group of teens and comes to realize that “young people live in a state of waiting for connection…[and] ‘interruption’ is the beginning of a connection” (172). I had not realized just how broken up my everyday life is by the interruptions of text messages and social media notifications until the Day of Unplugging.

In her chapter “Always On,” Turkle explores the immediacy of our connections, and how stifling it can be “as we communicate in ways that ask for almost instantaneous responses” (166). Much to the dismay of many of my friends, I somewhat rudely disobey the norms and do not usually respond instantaneously. Sometimes messages feel too demanding, and I take my time and think about how I want to respond before returning anything. I think if I conducted all my communications at the lightening fast pace that many others do, I would have appreciated the solitude of the day of unplugging more than I did. As it is, I do not often feel overwhelmed by my connections, so the break from technology did not feel very much needed.

I would not mind another technology fast, though I think a few hours will be more effective than an entire day for me personally. I welcomed the deeper connection it felt like I was fostering when I had drinks uninterrupted with my friend, and in the future I plan to try turning my phone off while I am spending time with friends or family. In my experience, when a face-to-face conversation is interrupted by a text, it is common courtesy to apologize for the interruption and explain who is texting and why they need your attention. This moves the conversation away from the people present, and brings it to those who are only present via technology. I think more uninterrupted conversations will make my relationships stronger, and my catalogue of gossip about others will probably shrink considerably.

At the same time, I will try to take something good away from the uneasiness unplugging caused. Interacting with strangers in a store should not be a frightening experience, so I will make an effort to immerse myself in the petite network that exists among shoppers by shopping without music from time to time. Additionally, I will try to limit myself from looking things up on Wikipedia every time I am curious about something. Interrupting my experience while out walking or while talking with friends to look things up online is not crucial, and isolates me from those around me. I doubt these changes will happen every single day, but making that effort even if only from time to time may strengthen my relationships and make me lastingly happier.

Gilbert, Daniel.  (2007).  Stumbling on Happiness.   New York: Vintage Books. Part 1: Prospection (pp.1-27)

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic, 2011. Print.

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