By Amanda Zambito.
When my dad received his first cell phone, it changed my life. Yes, I said my life.
I remember watching him as he stared pensively at the phone’s keyboard, struggling to find each letter of every word in the text he was constructing. I compared this snail-like pace to my proficient texting abilities, where I can quickly construct a text and walk down the street without once glancing at my screen.
Rather than seeing his texting ineptitude as weakness, I saw it as strength. I felt owned by my cell phone. I craved to regain his sense of technological naivety, and decided to take a 24-hour hiatus from all forms of technology.
My Day Without Technology, as I called it, began the night before. I was filled with feelings of nervous excitement as I completed my pre-bed routine. I laid out the next day’s outfit as I usually do, with just one additional accessory: a watch. Instead of setting my alarm, as I do every night, my roommate took on the task by agreeing to wake me at 8 a.m. After sending a few texts to my closest friends and family, I shut off my phone and headed to bed.
The wake-up call that I faced the next morning didn’t come from my roommate at 8 a.m. It came from the withdrawals I faced due to my lack of technology.
My first technology withdrawal came in the form of music. Music is like oxygen to me: I need it to sustain my existence—or so I thought. Without my phone, I couldn’t listen to music while walking to class or doing homework. This left me with something most of us try to avoid through the blissful distraction of music: our own voices in our head.
“Humans spend up to half of the day in a state of not consciously thinking about where we are or what we’re doing or what’s right in front of us,” said Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction. “Technology has done a really good job of hooking into that cognitive ability—or flaw, depending upon your perspective—and inserting itself into our extended minds at that moment.”
Without music, I was confronted by my “extended mind.” I tried to run from this higher level of cognitive awareness by singing songs in my head as I walked to class. I soon realized, however, that inter-cranial renditions of songs fall far short of the real versions.
I had to find a new method of distraction. I began observing the world around me. I made eye contact with people on the sidewalk and smiled. I observed people on the bus—their mannerisms, habits, and interactions. As I disconnected from my phone, I reconnected to the world.
Soojung-Kim Pang calls this a “substitution effect.” Using technology is “what people do instead of spending time with people who are right beside them.” He uses his seven-year-old son as an example, an adolescent who is “much more of a social butterfly when he is texting his friends than talking to them.”
After shifting my attention from my phone to the surrounding world, I began learning things about myself. I realized that I innately scowl while walking down the street and listening to music. When I replaced this with the smiling at strangers, I noticed my mood improved throughout the day.
Yet these newfound feelings of strength were interspersed with moments of heart-stopping anxiety. I was constantly nagged by the feeling that I was missing out on a crucial Instagram photo or Facebook post. I experienced “FOMO” (“Fear of Missing Out”), a modern term for a type of social anxiety, to a whole new extreme. A day without social media made me feel completely out-of-date.
When my Day Without Technology was finally over and I was reunited with my phone, I couldn’t help but breath a sigh of relief. Though I was grateful to tap into my dad’s level of technological naivety, I was also thankful to reconnect with my friends, family, and the world around me.
Soojung-Kim Pang highlights this humanistic need for technology. He does not recommend a life-long Sabbath from technology, but rather a mindfulness when using it.
“The objective is not to eliminate technology from your life—because that is frankly impossible and undesirable—but rather to learn to use it in ways that will make you be more focused rather than perpetually distracted,” said Soojung-Kim Pang.