by Megan Zhang
I woke to a beam of sunlight streaming in through my window on the morning of Friday, April 18th–the day I had chosen for my “day without technology.” Normally, I close the blinds before going to bed, but I needed some way of waking myself up without an alarm clock and hoped that sunlight would do the trick. I was surprised to find myself less groggy than usual, and attributed this to the fact that I had woken up naturally. It was a pleasant change from the obnoxious iPhone vibrations which are usually the first thing I hear every morning.
Going into my day without technology, I did not suspect that it would be very difficult. I do not like to study with my laptop in front of me, and I have never really enjoyed social media. So I spent the day studying from my textbooks, exercising, reading by the window, and going out to eat with my roommate. I personally quite enjoyed cutting myself off from communication devices for a day. Life felt simpler, less urgent, and more productive without my phone buzzing every so often, and without my laptop’s bright screen glaring at me, and my day felt less hurried without emails to respond to and phone calls to answer. Nowadays, people are so concerned with being connected, and with projecting the image of themselves that they want other people to see, that they often forget how therapeutic solitude and silence can be.
I must admit that the day did feel a bit quiet without my music playing, and I was not able to check the bus schedule on my phone. But I compromised by humming to myself and by checking the paper schedule posted in my dorm’s lobby. When I went for a run, I did not have my iPod, so I ended up paying more attention to the sights and sounds around me, like the architecture that I ran past and the pigeon poop lining the sidewalks.
But as the day went on, I began to gain a more heightened awareness of just how much technology humans rely on every single day. Of the ten people sharing an elevator with me as I rode from my dorm’s 22nd floor to the lobby, I was the sole individual not staring at a phone. One person used his phone to take a picture of his sandwich; another person almost tripped while exiting the elevator because she was typing. Nobody so much as even glanced up during the duration of the elevator ride–every single person was completely absorbed and distracted by the tiny screen in his or her hand. “For years, people have been looking for ways to avoid having difficult conversations,” said Alex Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction in an interview. Escaping into one’s phone is an easy way to avoid the awkwardness of having a conversation while sharing such close quarters with several other people during a lengthy elevator ride. As I stood there staring at the elevator door, I realized how mechanical our species has become.
At the end of the day, I usually feel relieved to be sleeping, but I often also feel worn-out and sometimes a bit stressed. But when I crawled into bed on the night of my day without technology, I felt what can only be described as calm peacefulness. I was more clear-headed than usual, and life did not feel as rushed. I am not sure if this had anything to do with the fact that I had not used technology all day, but I think it did. As Pang said, “My days without technology are very restorative.” It is scary to think that technology could be one of the underlying sources of stress and hurriedness that so many people feel on a daily basis. I think that perhaps the constant influx of information and communication through technological devices wears out my soul a little bit every day. It was relaxing and rejuvenating to just be disconnected from the world for a while. William Penn’s famous quote captures the essence of how I felt: “True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.”
The next day, I told my dad about my day without technology. Working in high-tech, he is around technology all the time, but he said something that surprised me. “Technology has the amazing ability to infuse our lives with knowledge and convenience,” he said. “But it can also end up being our downfall.”