-By Kari O’Hara
Leaving technology behind for a day would be a journey of self-discovery, I thought. I’d walk more slowly than usual down the street. Interesting people would pass by as I make eye contact, smile, and say hello. My head would be clear as I transcend the superficial virtual issues that plague the poor connected people of the 21st century.
Yet as that day approached, I kept pushing it back and rescheduling. My romantic ideas of living off the grid were turning into panic about being unreachable.
“This is just irresponsible!” I thought at one particularly dark moment of digital dependence. “I have no problem going off the grid for myself, but it is unfathomable to ask others to accommodate my recklessness!”
I don’t think of myself as someone who’s particularly connected. As friends and family will tell you, I can be negligent in responding to text messages and phone calls. I was proud to say that I was not in the 44% of cell phone users who can’t sleep without their cell phone beside them.
But during my day-long hiatus from technology, I realized I may not have text messages streaming in constantly, or a desire to tweet regularly to a group of friends and strangers, but technology is absolutely infused into my daily life.
As midnight approached on the Tuesday October 15th, the night before my scheduled day without technology, I had to make arrangements around every bit of technology I would rely on. I set an alarm on my watch and made sure my roommate would check that I was awake at 8am. I promised to help my roommate at a cocktail event that the start-up she worked for was hosting, so I googled directions and printed them out. I had to tell everyone I was supposed to meet the next day that I would be unreachable. I had make up for it by being thorough in making plans beforehand and punctual so no “where are you?” texts were required.
Technology was not impossible to cut out of my life, especially for one day. But I did realize two things came in to replace it in the short time it was gone: preparation and boredom. I had to know before I left my apartment where I was going, when I would have to get there, and who I would be meeting. These details always seemed to figure themselves out in transit when I tote my smartphone around.
What surprised me most was that I had forgotten what it felt like to be bored—to sit and wait, with no games or texts or Facebook notifications to distract me. I worked the door at the cocktail event. I simply stood at my podium in the lobby of an old, ornate apartment building, checking off a list of names. I stood there. The stream of arriving guests dwindled, and I stood there. I thought of my new app obsessions and the various high scores I could be beating. But I stood, and I talked to the doormen, and I greeted the guests, and I doodled on my guest list.
It was the transitional moments when I noticed the absence of technology—the times when my conditioned tic to check my email or open mah jong on my phone would kick in. Maybe my experience would be different if there was some breaking news or an emergency, but in a normal, mundane day, it was the time in transit, the moments of technology-enabled spontaneity, the few minutes of down time, that I realized just how connected I am.