By Claire Voon
We are glued to our devices, texting, emailing, tweeting, visiting our endless number of social media outlets. As a journalism student, I find myself especially chained to my Twitter feed, refreshing it whenever possible lest I miss an important story. We have developed technology as an aid to ease our access to knowledge and to help us become more productive. Yet technology has eaten away at my freedom: I have become dependent on my iPhone and my Macbook.
I approached my Day without Technology with fear, or more specifically, the fear of missing out, identified as a 21st century phenomenon by social media enthusiasts.
Throughout the day, I kept wondering, “What if I miss an important email from a professor or my editor? What if something major happens and I don’t read about it? What if I miss a free concert ticket giveaway? I wonder how many snapchats I’ve received, if anyone has retweeted my tweets or if I’ve gotten any new ‘likes’ on Instagram?”
Not having access to my electronics did not only strip me of knowing the time or the weather or my location in a strange place — information easily attained with a watch, a thermostat and a map, items many have cast aside — but it also untied me from my self-imposed binds to the digital world and allowed me to appreciate physical communication.
As Douglas Rushkoff said, “It’s not because we need the email for our productivity, but because we are addicted to the possibility that there’s a great tidbit in there somewhere…we are trained to keep opening emails in the hope of a little shot of serotonin — pleasant ping from the world of chronos” (117).
Not having my phone or Internet access made me realize my addiction to the digital world. I constantly refresh all my social media pages in the hope of finding a new development, whether in the form of a fascinating news story on Twitter or a simple ‘like’ on Facebook. The pleasure we get from engaging with another human being has been replaced with the “little shot of serotonin” we get from a simple notification.
Without constantly hunting for these sources of pleasure, I found that I was free to focus on other things, like fully engaging with people instead of checking my phone mid-conversation, or reading a book without getting distracted. Of course, this was not without difficulty: I often found myself slipping my hand into my pocket for my phone, as if I had felt some kind of “phantom vibration,” but around the late afternoon, I accepted that I was device-less. Eventually, it was relieving to feel no obligation to respond to the digital world, to be able to ignore this compression of information.
Rushkoff refers to this inundation of information as a temporal compression, which he refers to as “overwinding — the effort to squish really big timescales into much smaller or nonexistent ones.” (136)
Every buzz of my phone signals the reception of new information that is likely unrelated to what I am physically doing at that moment. The information will still exist even if I do not attend to it immediately. However, I have become so accepting of this overwinding that every buzz will nag at me until I swipe right to unlock my device and attend to it.
During my Day without Technology, I found that by releasing myself from the digital world, I paid more attention to the real world. Time I would have spent paying attention to my social media life was spent paying attention to my physical one. I learned that we have become so obsessed with getting information at the present moment that we miss out on exactly that — the present.
Work Cited: Rushkoff, Douglas. Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. New York: Current, 2013. Print.