My DWT: Reflecting on Information Technology

By Wendy (Tzu-Shu) Shyu

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I sat at Chelsea Park, trying to read, waiting for a friend.

Before starting my Day without Technology, I had several conversations with people around me about the idea of not using technology for a day. When my friend heard about this, she suggested that I should not have my phone with me at all times, whether or not I use it, as part of my experience should be understanding the sense of insecurity the lack of technology brings.

My other friends proposed the idea that it is impossible to live without technology, as the subway, traffic lights, and even electricity should be considered as technology. My dad even joked that the only way to stay away from all technologies is probably to sleep nakedly under a big tree. In order to make things easier, I followed the rule of thumb of Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, the author of The Distraction Addiction: “[It is] important to recognize while we talk about technology, we mean information technology and modern ones.”

That is, to get rid of my phone and laptop for a day. Knowing myself to be heavily dependent on information technology, I was reluctant to start my DWT. My original plan was to sleep off the whole day in order to avoid the inconveniences that I might encounter. However, after thinking more about it, I decided that it is an opportunity for me to explore New York City more.

My “Technology Sabbath” is scheduled to start some time around noon on March 20th, lasting until the next day near noon. Meanwhile, I would be going around the City to places where I had always wanted to visit but never had time to, without using my phone and laptop. However, I still decided to bring my cell phone in case of an emergency.

Even before my DWT started, I began experiencing the inconveniences. In order to plan my day ahead, I woke up a couple of hours before the ban on digital devices took effect in order to do research on the locations I planned to spend time at, in case I get lost. I used a notebook and pen to write down the routes and subway lines I should take, and the estimated time it would take me to get from one location to another. I realized how ironic it is for me to spend more time on technology in advance to avoid using it.

I even managed to plan a meet-up with a friend to check out the High Line. Instead of giving each other an approximate time and location, thinking that we could just call each other once we get near the area, we had to schedule an exact time and location to meet up since we cannot contact each other through phone.

My day started with me taking the subway to Chelsea Market. I did my research on the famous restaurants at the market in advance, so I quickly chose one to eat at. Restricted from using my phone, I was not able to Yelp each dish in order to see which one is the most popular online. So I asked the waiter for his recommendation and decided to follow it.

At the restaurant, I realized my attention, which would be normally distracted by my phone, was focused on my surroundings: the people that were working or eating at the restaurant seemed much more interesting, and every detail of the interior design and the food could catch my attention. Besides, I find myself having more time to engage in a conversation with the waiters, the time I usually spend on Facebook reading the latest posts of my friends’.

After the market, I continued my journey towards the Chelsea Park. On my subway ride there, I was observing people in my cart, which is something I would always do in NYC subways due to the lack of Internet connection underground. Then I started realizing how heavy my bag was; giving up information technology actually added weight to my bag: this was something I had not expected.

Because I could not use my phone, I had to bring a physical book instead reading off my Kindle app, an SLR camera instead of using my iPhone camera, a real notebook instead of keeping notes in my memo app, and a map book instead of asking the Google app. I came to realize at this point that my dependence on my phone is not only the emotional attachment to people that are not near me, but also the functions that really make my life easier. Maybe this is a part of being addicted, but it seems somewhat justified through the rationale of convenience.

After I got to Chelsea Park, I decided to sit in the park to start reading, making the most of the two hours I have before meeting my friend. However, it got so cold that I decided to look for a café nearby to sit in. I ended up sitting in a bar for two hours with a glass of orange juice, which is one of the few non-alcoholic drinks they have. If I could use my phone, I would have known that it was too cold to sit outside, and I would have been able to look up a Starbucks nearby.

As Pang says on his personal experience of DWT, “How different your sense of time is when it is not regulated by information technologies,” I also realized how slowly time seemed to go by when I did not have access to my phone. It seems like digital devices nowadays fill in the small fractions of time in our lives, making us seem always so busy and fast-paced.

I arrived at the meeting point half an hour earlier to meet my friend, while he arrived ten minutes after me. It seemed like when we stop relying on technology to communicate, we give ourselves more time to get to one place. It might be less efficient, as the time waiting for a friend can easily be wasted, but if everyone arrives earlier, an event can start and end on time or even early.

During the time I spent with my friend, I truly experienced how information technology has transformed communication efficiently. Due to my parents’ demand of letting them know the time I got back to the dorm, I had to ask my friend to ask another friend to send a Facebook message to my mom. Due to miscommunication though, a wrong message was sent. I ended up having my friend hold his phone for me to talk directly to the other friend to tell her exactly what to do. Information technology has definitely made direct communication much easier.

As Pang said, “We have, literally, never lived in a world without technology.” Since it is inevitable to avoid passively receiving aid from technologies in the modern world; the best I can do is to actively stop myself from using certain kinds of them. Looking back at my DWT, I would consider it a luxury during Spring Break: it actually felt really nice to give myself a day off to explore the City and spend time with my friends without being interrupted by information that does not really mean anything to my life.

Then I recalled my weekends back in elementary and middle school, when I would intentionally turn off my phone and keep myself away from the gossips of my friends. In freshman year in Shanghai where YouTube and Facebook was blocked, I was fine with living without certain information technologies. What has changed my life to be so controlled by the devices? Or maybe it is the feeling that Pang mentioned: “my own abilities extended, being improved in some way,” which made technologies an inseparable part of my life. I am glad though, through DWT, I discovered that I still have the ability to live my life with my own natural instincts, instead of being controlled by some operating system behind the screen.

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