Freedom I Cannot Bear by Sung

A photo taken by my roommate Tae.

Saturday, October 13th. I wake up to the sound of alarm and slide open the lock of my phone to check the time, even before realizing that today is my supposed ‘Day without Technology’. I turn off my phone, which I absent-mindedly plugged into the charger just before I went to sleep yesterday. I slug out of the room and turn off my laptop. The journey finally begins.

Perhaps 11:24AM was a bit too early to be starting the day without technology. As I soon found out, being free from technology for an entire day was too much of a burden to bear in modern times. 

For two years in the Korean Army, isolated in mountains near the Northern borders of Korea, I lived a life almost devoid of technology – namely internet and cellphones. Sure, I could watch TV in the living quarters, but it did not compare to having a phone or an internet connection. With TVs, you are connected to the world, but only as an observer. It is a one-sided, analog relationship where you are only at the receiving end of data. With cellphones and the internet, you are digitally connected to the world. You can interact with others and keep in touch with your friends and family.

So how was is that I felt terribly disconnected from just a day without technology in New York, only after six months from being discharged from service? It is simply ridiculous how fast I adapted and became dependent on ‘staying connected’. Only after six months of using a smartphone, the motion of unlocking the phone using my left thumb was habitually ingrained in me. It was muscle memory. It was the first thing I did every morning.

Painful as it was, I decided to stay at home the entire day to fully immerse myself in the technology-free life. I wanted to see how much it would differ from my normal weekends at home. The day did not function properly and I began noticing the effect of my laptop and my cellphone on my life.

My God, I have been a slave to technology.

For one, not using technology changed things back to interpersonal level. I could only talk to whoever I was physically close by. I couldn’t tell where my friends were at or what they were doing.  It was suffocating.

I now had to rely on my wristwatch, but from time to time I mindlessly checked my empty pockets for my phone to tell the time.

I sat on the small living room table to have lunch, and there was nothing there to entertain me while I eat. Whenever I had lunch or dinner in my room, I watched videos on my computer –anything to keep my eyes busy while I finished the meal. Without the videos, I suddenly realized how lonely it is to eat alone, and it was disconcerting to understand why I had to watch something every time I was eating in my room.

After lunch, I lay in bed thinking about the things I could do today. I was already getting tired of this day, but I had to stay positive. Maybe I could finally finish reading Kurt Vonnegut today, free from the time wasted on the internet.

Turns out that I only had a few pages left on Breakfast for Champions, and soon afterwards I was again engulfed by boredom.

I played a ukulele, which someone had left in my room. I flicked through some magazines. I wrote some assignments in paper. I did some push ups. I cleaned my room. I checked my pockets, laughed, and then checked my wrist – still eight more hours to go.

I had no choice. What else could I do but sleep away this boredom?

When I woke up, it was dinnertime. I couldn’t order in food for obvious reasons, and I was too lazy to eat outside. So I decided to make use of what I have left in my fridge, and voila, a spam cheeseburger! I took my sweet time preparing dinner, too – I suddenly had all the time in the world. Also, taking time to make myself a nice dinner was meditative, in a way.

Maybe day without technology wasn’t such a bad idea. It was like a mental vacation for a day, and as bored as I was, I felt relaxed. Sleeping helped, to be completely fair, but once you got over the first few hours of asphyxia, you were set.

I could do this again some other day – but not too rigorously, of course.

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