When the iPhone first came out in 2007, I simply could not understand why people spent so much time on their new device. Sure, there was a fancy touchscreen and a growing number of apps, but I didn’t see the appeal of spending my days hunched over a phone and leaving the rest of the world in my peripheral. When I eventually received the iPhone as a graduation present from my parents, I vowed to use it just as I had used my sturdy old flip-phone, for texting and calling only.
Today, I am constantly on my phone. My phone addiction began with downloading an innocent weather app. After a while, I found myself opening the app whenever I was waiting in line for something. Facebook eventually crept onto my phone letting me check up on friends far away, Spotify for music whenever I’m outside, and Reddit for when I have nothing to do. It’s insane what one can do with his iPhone to entertain himself. I have become reliant on my phone to shield me from boring situations. When our class was assigned a Digital Sabbath, a day without technology, I shuddered at the thought of facing the dullness of the real world unarmed.
At the same time, I felt a slight pull towards having a day with no technology. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction, explores the relationship between man and technology. “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 more focused rather than perpetually distracted.” There were certainly times when I felt like my overwhelming need to check my phone was a distraction, especially when I miss something someone said to me because I was on my phone.
The first things I did to prepare myself the night before my day without technology were unplug my television and reset my laptop’s password with my roommate’s help. I then prepared a notepad and pencil to write anything noteworthy down as well as a few books I could read if I got bored. Finally, I got in bed and drained the rest of my iPhone’s battery browsing Facebook and Reddit, and drifted off to sleep.
I groggily woke up the next morning and habitually reached for my phone. After finding it dead, I groaned and showered to wake myself up for breakfast. Waiting in line at Weinstein sucked; I found myself restlessly reaching for my phone. Not knowing what to do with my hands, I shoved them deep into my pockets and waited for what seemed like an hour. Finally, I got my usual order and began walking over to the tables. I stopped midway after realizing that eating at the table would be boring and awkward since I was eating alone and felt like I needed to look busy. I took my meal to Washington Square Park instead.
I arrived at Washington Square Park feeling as if I had heightened senses that morning. The smell of fresh grass filled my nose, the colors of green and white felt more vivid, and the Arch looked bigger and more detailed than it had before. “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,” Pang said. For the first time since I came to NYU as a freshman, I felt excited at the dawning realization that I was in Manhattan, where I dreamed of living all through high school. The rest of the day went by in a blur; I lounged about in WSP for a while longer, and then walked to Union Square enjoying the sights and sounds I had neglected since coming here. My memories that day felt so coherent that I did not need to write anything down on my notepad after all; I was engaged with everything I did rather than “socially engaged”.
While I enjoyed my day without technology, I wonder if I can muster up another Digital Sabbath any time soon. It was immensely inconvenient and while I did feel like I “experienced” more, I felt cut off from my friends and family. The truth is we live in a digital age; everyone is constantly connected, and shutting oneself off from the rest of the world digitally is not worth it to me. However, my day without technology has been an eye-opening experience on how much of the real world I have missed whilst engrossed in the digital world.