Addiction (Almost) Unplugged

by Ananya Bhattacharya

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I cheated all day. I heard music, I messaged my mom and I took pictures on the beach. To be fair, I technically didn’t touch technology but I found a way around everything. From the moment we open our eyes to the time we go to bed, we’re constantly surrounded by technology. We use light to aid our sight in darkness, alarms to help us awake in the morning, and cars to get us from point A to B.

For my day without technology, I consciously gave up the two devices that control my life-my phone and my laptop. Every activity from my morning alarm to my homework submission, checking the weather and every other activity involves these two devices. I thought that it would be a lot easier to go without technology in a foreign country where most of my devices were obsolete for the week anyway. I would, soon discover that, unfortunately, there is no (real) escape.

Three friends and I were in Cancun, Mexico, for Spring Break. Our first night there I decided that I’d spend the first full day of my holiday without technology so I turned off my phone and stowed my laptop under the nightstand. I asked my friend to set an alarm for 6 a.m. As my head hit the pillow, the paranoia kicked.  Then, I woke up at 3, 4 and 5 a.m. and shook her gently each time to ask her the time to make sure that her phone hadn’t malfunctioned and we hadn’t missed our 7 a.m. bus. Who was I kidding? When my own alarm has worked every day without fail for years now, why wouldn’t hers? I guess I just didn’t feel the safety and comfort that I do with my own phone.

When I finally woke up, I saw the blue trees outside and sat in the balcony while my friend showered, as the gentle breeze blew. Soon after my shower, I reached for the hair dryer and plugged it in.

“Can I use it first?”

“Yeah, sure!” I told my friend.

As she pressed the power button and started blow-drying my hair, that loud machine sound reminded me that I wasn’t supposed to be around electronics today. It had been 20 minutes since my day began, and I had almost failed. When I got the hair dryer back, I sulked a little about sitting in an air-conditioned bus with wet hair but decided to fold the hair dryer cord up and went back to towel dry my hair to my best ability.

Transport was one technology I could not avoid. It is far too ingrained in modern life and we were going sightseeing. If I used a bicycle, everybody would come back before I even reached halfway. The agenda for the day included stopping and swimming at a 150 ft. deep cenote and then visiting Chichen Itza, one of the wonders of the world.

I thought that there was enough to do so I would be entertained all day and wouldn’t even think about technology. Then, I got on the bus and all three of my friends plugged in their earphones and closed their eyes. The silence got me thinking what I did when I travelled as child without an iPod or a smartphone. I used to play cards with my brother in the back of my car on road trips. I don’t think I even own cards anymore. I used to read on the bus too. But I kept books for longer plane rides now- for when I got bored of the TV, movies and music. Honestly, the technology sabbatical wouldn’t even have been that hard had I had company that would talk to me but everybody was busy bobbing along to their music.

Luckily for me, the pin-drop silence, the view outside the window and my boredom did a great job of putting me to sleep for about half the journey. Once we finally arrived at the cenote, the sun was out and the water looked very inviting. I didn’t think twice about the phone I’d left back in the hotel room. That only lasted until I realized how badly I wanted to take pictures at the breathtaking location. That was the first time I cheated. If it wasn’t my phone and I didn’t touch it, it wasn’t me using technology, right?

The entire day, I bugged my friends to take every picture I would’ve taken had I had my phone and I made them Whatsapp it to me in real time too. Just to make sure I didn’t miss out tomorrow when I switched the phone back on. In the moment though, not having a camera or phone allowed me to be “engaged with the event, not socially engaged with it,” as Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction, said.

I had finally come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t turn my phone on for the rest of the day and it stopped bothering me. That was until my friend’s mother called him while we were eating lunch. I realized I had completely forgotten to tell my mom that I wouldn’t have my phone. I couldn’t do anything except plan to profusely apologize to her the next day and hope she doesn’t panic after my phone goes straight to voicemail. To my relief, she texted one of my friends asking if I was with them and if I was okay. This problem was dodged and I didn’t have to break my ban on technology yet!

       It is true that technology has allowed us a cop-out. It “feels like it gives us a way out [and] gives us practice in having a challenging conversation,” said Pang. It’s simply “feeding on something humans have been doing and avoiding for years.” Humans would find a way to avoid difficult situations anyway, and technology is just complements this human instinct. But after this experience, I was made more aware of the positive aspect of technology in this respect wherein it “allows the people who matter to us to reach us,” as Pang said.

After the long day, when we were all relaxing in the room, people played music on their laptops and I sat glued to their side, making requests but refusing to touch the cursor myself. I tricked myself into believing that I had successfully carried out my day with technology.

But I did learn the importance of experiencing life with good company and keeping yourself busy. So many times, we are consumed with social media and our image of ourselves that we forgot to just be ourselves. Taking a break from technology put into perspective the number of times I should’ve been looking out of the window in a car, instead of picking the next song on my phone. I came to realize that as important as it is to take pictures of the places and the people you love, it is more important to take a mental picture- to really experience where you are when you are there, because time is ephemeral and ever-changing and the pictures may stay but the moment will cease to be an never return.

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