DWT: The Fault in Our Oblivion

By: Daniela Franco

I had been dreading my ‘Digital Sabbath’ from the day the assignment was given. I’ll admit I am one of those people who has been digitally documenting her life on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. My mom has actually gone out of her way to point out times in which it was unnecessary for me to post on the Internet. And so I took on this task with fear and began to overly prepare for my 24 hours without technology.

As I considered what exactly fell under the category of ‘technology’, I realized it was next to impossible to truly take all technology away. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction, said “Our goal is to not eliminate technology completely, but to limit it and control it,” so I made a list of objects I would disconnect with and shut off entirely: digital alarm clock, iPod, iPad, MacBook Pro, and iPhone. The only piece of technology that I would allow myself would be my analog watch.

Prior to going to bed and officially beginning my journey, I did some safety web surfing. First, I perused the Weather Channel to make sure the weather wouldn’t shock me. Then, I explored Google Maps to map out my 6 mile running route, print the map and steps to make to Brooklyn and back to Tribeca. And finally, Facebook and Twitter to announce my disconnecting. In bed by 10pm, I dreamed of a world full of Apple products and headphones.

I woke up at 8:00 am on Thursday March 20th, full of energy. I reached down to the ground for my phone and realized my roommate had stored all my devices in a hidden spot in our dorm just to be safe. I grabbed some quick breakfast, changed into my workout clothes and was out the door in less than 20 minutes. With my printed map in hand, I began my journey to the Brooklyn Bridge Park, since I live less than 5 minutes away from the Bridge. I’d been training for a half marathon since mid-November and the idea of running without my exercise playlist completely scared me. I was used to tuning everyone and everything out.

View from the Brooklyn Bridge the morning after my DWT.

View from the Brooklyn Bridge the morning after my DWT.

I noticed that everyone running and even some biking were wearing headphones. I felt like an outsider. Someone who had missed the memo that to be on the bridge you had to be listening to something other than the sound of cars honking during the morning traffic. Cars honking and bikes swirling past me made my running somewhat intolerable. With every angry commuter honking furiously, I got side tracked very easily.

But, at one point when I turned around rather suddenly, I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at Manhattan as the sun started hitting the buildings. I had been running this track since I began training but this was the first time I noticed how beautiful everything looked. I got to the park looking at everything with a fresh set of eyes. And as I noticed everything, I kept thinking what a beautiful Instangram picture everything around me would make.

I sat in the park taking in the sun, watching people rushing around the park while I relaxed on the warm grass before running back to my dorm. By the time I was on the bridge again, the rush of tourists had begun and I was yearning for headphones. I took a shower and sang unusually softly since I didn’t have my music to drown my voice out. While having an early lunch, I looked at my watch and noticed it was barely past noon. I felt the urge to go to my room and search every possible hiding spot for my devices but I persevered. I grabbed The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, my sunglasses, my wallet, and left my apartment as soon as I could.

I wandered aimlessly for a while before finally deciding to go to Washington Square Park. I know, cliché. But I didn’t feel like going out with exploring if I didn’t have my phone to get me back home. I found a nice spot by the fountain and began reading my book, which is about a pair of cancer patients who fall in love. It sounds extremely depressing but since its being adapted into a movie, I wanted read the story prior to watching it. So I read and kept reading until I tearfully reached the end. I looked up afraid that someone had seen me while I cried but no one did. I sat there with other students sitting around me viciously typing onto their computers, a man shouting into his phone, and a woman humming as she listed to a song playing from her iPod.

Washington Square Park, mid-April.

Washington Square Park, mid-April.

I checked my watch and noticed it was almost 7pm and the sun was starting to go down, so I began making my journey downtown. As I walked I realized I had read an entire book purely for my own pleasure for what felt like the first time in my entire college career. I also kept noticing everything around me. I noticed people saying hi to each other, couples pushing strollers, and most of people focused on their phones not even looking up if they bumped into others.

Once I got home, I sat by the window facing the Freedom Tower and began thinking about the book and remembered one quote in particular. The male protagonist said: “I fear oblivion… I fear it like the proverbial blind man who’s afraid of the dark.” Oblivion is the state of being unaware or unconscious of what is happening. Is it possible that we are already in oblivion? People are so focused and consumed within their devices that they fail to see what surrounds them. And I have to admit, I am one of those people that are probably in oblivion.

Although I won’t go out of my way to avoid devices, I have to admit that the experience did make me more aware of the risk of oblivion. Being a casualty of oblivion would mean risking missing a connection with a place or, even worse, a person. I will also try to not digitally document everything the minute it happens. Just like Pang said, “[It’s about] living first, talking about it later. When you are doing interesting things, you don’t know what they are really about until later.”

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