Connecting Without Technology

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Grace Church on a sunny Spring afternoon.

by Marilyn La Jeunesse

In the twenty-first century it is a challenge to escape the clutches of technology, but I decided to try it anyways. Prepared for a struggle I made sure to notify my family and friends so they could help me in my attempt to go off the grid for a day. After checking Facebook and updating Instagram one last time, I shut my phone off and made a game plan for the rest of the day. In his novel The Distraction Addiction, Alex Soonjung-Kim Pang says it is best to avoid anything with a screen when preparing for a “digital Sabbath.” I decided to follow this rule and not use my phone, laptop or television for the rest of the day.

Unfortunately for my boyfriend, I made him participate in this temporary isolation. I had just bought a new camera so we decided to walk around the city talking photographs of interesting things we saw on our adventure. We started at Washington Square Park and worked our way down to the Lower East Side, photographing anything and everything that sparked our interest.

Two hours passed quickly as we wandered aimlessly around the city. Without Google Maps to help us, we used the Empire State Building as our guide and proceeded from there, hoping we wouldn’t get lost. Without our phones ringing or the desire to check Facebook, our walk around New York was enlightening. We were able to talk to each other and were more cognizant of the things happening around us.

Soon we decided to stop in a small café. To our astonishment, we were exceedingly aware of the technology around us. The café, about as big as a college dorm room, was packed with couples, friends and individuals alike huddled around their laptops and cellphones, blocking out the world around them. One couple in particular was so engrossed in updating their statuses and checking their emails that they hardly looked up and enjoyed each other’s company.

This is an example of what Pang calls the substitution effect. “The substitution effect is something you do instead of spending time with people who are right beside you,” Pang said in an interview.

It was then that I found how grateful I was for my day without technology. Without my cellphone or laptop to distract me, my focus was completely devoted to those around me. I was more aware of the barista’s cheerful disposition, and communicated more with my boyfriend. We laughed more and cared more about what each other was saying rather than if our friend had replied to our text. My digital Sabbath allowed me to take a break from social media, which allowed me to become more aware of technology’s control over me and everyone else.

“Our goal is to not eliminate technology completely, but to limit it and control it.” Pang said. “The objective is to learn to use it in ways that will help you be more focused and mindful.”

Since the Sabbath I have followed Pang’s advice and tried to become more conscious of the technology I use and how frequently I use it. I have found that it has become easier to break away from technology. And, now, my boyfriend and I have started planning no-technology dates where we go out to dinner or visit a museum, and we are not allowed to touch our phones the entire time. This has allowed us to focus more on each other rather than the outside world, which is a liberating feeling in a century so reliant on technology.

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