Coming Unplugged

We live in the Age of Glowing Rectangles. We can’t escape them: television, computers, iPods, cell phones, video games… nearly all of our media, whether for news, school, or entertainment, is digital. It’s extremely rare to encounter a person who doesn’t own a cell phone, outside of some isolationists sects (the Amish, for instance, usually avoid “modern” technology). It’s convienient: we don’t miss out on happenings in the world and our communities. We can stay connected with friends around the world. We never have to be alone. We have numerous escapes from boredom. In many respects, all this technology is great.

My generation, the 20-somethings and under, have grown up with computers and television and cell phones. We’re the demographic who goes out to buy the latest-and-greatest gadgets. Many of us have built our lives in and around the media. I am certainly part of that group; through most of my school, I took classes online. The computer was my teacher, my mentor, my coach, and my friends. I had lots of IRL friends too, through volunteer work and community organizations, but there are, to this day, people I consider good friends who I’ve only met once or twice. I know lots of other teens who have close friends, or are even dating, people in another part of the country or world, who they’ve never met face-to-face.

In fact, a lot of us teens and 20-somethings are so plugged in to the digital world, that we’re addicted. According to a world-wide experiment, leaving the computer or the phone or the iPod for just a day is near impossible. The World Unplugged study had college students all around the world turn off all their media for 24 hours, and report on their feelings afterwards. Some of their responses:

  • “I literally didn’t know what to do with myself. Going down to the kitchen to pointlessly look in the cupboards became regular routine, as did getting a drink.”
  • “When I was on the metro, I had nothing to do but to stare at other people using their phones.”
  • I found the experience quite isolating, due to the fact that I could not sit in our communal living area because my flatmates were watching television in there together, as well as playing music.”
  • One of the biggest obstacles was feeling out of the loop, as the media is used to be kept ‘in the know.’”
  • “I could hear more sounds around me when I was walking on the street, because I wasn’t listening to the music from my iPod. However, without listening to my favorite music the whole day really made me feel depressed.”
  • “Switching my phone off was rather bizarre. It felt like I was literally cutting myself off from civilization.”
  • “I felt so lonely that I could not really stand it and I could not sleep well during the night without sharing or connecting with others.”
  • “I realized that out of every 24 hours, I’m connected to a machine 15 hours a day.”

There are tons more, that all follow the same sort of theme: we cannot survive without the social media. It makes us lonely, disconnected, isolated, anxious, and out-of-the-loop. I like to think that I’m less dependent on the media than this, but it’s a lie to myself: while I don’t go through withdrawal every time I turn off my cell phone and laptop, I am a college student, and a blogger. Several of my textbooks are digital, so my course readings are on the computer. I almost always have my email open. In my free time, I go through the items on my Google Reader account, or write posts, or check Facebook, or play with photos in Photoshop, or… the list goes on. I’m addicted, just like nearly all of my peers. And while it’s not all bad – far from it, in fact – it’s something we’ve got to be aware off.

So, I dare you; instead of IMing your friends tonight, ask them if they want to go meet up at a coffee shop and hang out. Or, as the weather’s getting nicer, go to a park and play Ultimate Frisbee or ride a bike or just wander around for a bit. See how long you can come unplugged. And when you go back to the Glowing Rectangles, remember that, despite all their advantages, the world does exist outside of them too.

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Ali Marie

Ali Marie

Ali Marie is a recent Master's of Education graduate, and is now venturing back into the world of non-traditional education, as an outreach program leader at a children's museum. Her interests vary widely, but include board games, music, dinosaurs, and science as a whole.

You can find Ali on Twitter, @ascientifica.

1 Comment

  1. April 8, 2011 at 10:54 pm —

    This definitely brings attention to a very interesting issue.

    Just a little anecdote of my own to add from when I underwent forced technology isolation^^:

    While I was at uni, I was constantly surrounded by technology. As you said: multimedia, Facebook, online news, Skype, social networking, blogs, forums etc. It was very much a part of my daily life.

    When I had my first job out of uni, I was working on a project in the middle of nowhere surrounded by cows, birds and the very occasional human ;). I lived with one other girl who I also worked with, and although we did have electricity and a TV, we had no internet connection. I never realised how connected I was until I went out there. The first week is the hardest(weirdest?). But you really become used to it quite quickly. Us humans are very good at adapting to new situations!

    After a year and a half of living and working out there, I was very comfortable and knew how to entertain myself. My colleague/friend/adopted sister(!) and I would read books together, talk, go for walks, explore, talk, go fossicking at the beach, TALK, …! One thing I realised from this whole thing was that sometimes, even with all the connectivity of the internet, technology can still be somewhat isolating. When someone has their headphones on, they aren’t hearing the sounds of the birds or the hustle and bustle of town. It puts up a barrier between them and the world. I’m not saying that technology is bad, in fact, I LOVE it!! 😀 I’m reiterating your same sentiment, in that we need to try and maintain a healthy balance between the wonderful world out there and the awesomeness that is technology ;).

    Great article! Thank you!

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