In defense of an unplugged life

Stacey Day

The first time I ever went to Björklunden during Fall Term of my freshman year, I was, as anyone who has ever visited has been, struck immediately by how awesome it is.

I got nearly no homework done, because there simply is no reason on earth why I would have wanted to stay indoors — besides meals, of course — and luckily, the wireless Internet was so crappy and inefficient that it was impossible for me to download the files I needed off of Moodle.

Ok, the Internet worked fine if you had the expectations of all the speed and reliability of dial-up connections in the mid-’90s, but I didn’t. Therefore, Björklunden became a halcyon haven of technology-free space, my cellphone rendered useful only as an alarm clock because of the lack of service — not that I used it as such.

In this article, I won’t be advocating the Luddite/Amish viewpoint — although that was admittedly the thrust of my working draft, or would have been if I actually wrote drafts of my articles.

There is a significant practical difference between scorning all technology by camping in the woods ad infinitum as a hunter gatherer, and cognizant awareness of, and resistance to, the stranglehold all our modern technology has on our consciousness, our ways of processing and thinking about our lives.

In fact, I think that such extreme breaks from technology as one might experience while camping are often utterly useless in changing the patterns of everyday life. I could live without a computer for a month in the woods — and have — and within a day back be just as addicted to checking my email as I am during finals weeks.                                   

Now I have to defend why checking Facebook 20 times a day can have adverse effects on social relationships, and why texting has eliminated the need to see people in person, etc., etc., etc.

We’ve all heard this spiel, from sources more or less biased, more or less crotchety and more or less hypocritical. I count myself in the “more” category for all three.

However, I’m here to reiterate it because I believe it, because I think most us of believe it — no matter how little we act on this belief — and because I recently had one of those pathetic breakdowns when I realized I actually spent more time Internet-ing than either doing homework or hanging out with real people that day.

Therefore here is my blissfully brief recapitulation of this semi-stale spiel. I think that technology primarily functions as a regulating, tempering force. While we build more and more machines custom-adapted to our needs, our needs are also adapting to be met by machines.

Just as machines are getting “smarter” in a human sense — calculators were always smarter than me, I think the sense today is clearly meant to convey approximations of humanity — so too are humans becoming more… automated.

We go where we are supposed to when the bell rings, and our social appetites now hunger not only for real people, but also for online people.

Through social technology, we schedule our lives. We live mediated by cross-checking with others via Facebook and texting — “will u be there?” How many people are attending this event? We watch convocations online after the event, if at all, rather than show up. I hope you all did.

I want to dare myself to seek more unmediated, immediate, experiences in life. When we let go of the technological chains that bind us, we can live more spontaneous, vivid lives. Instead of dividing our consciousness between now and everything that is happening online, or on our phones, we can be more beautifully present.

My personal dare to Lawrence is to start this trend by abandoning wristwatches, those ticking reminders of places we are supposed to be, obligations we need to keep, and ultimately of our own mortality — Peter Pan, anyone?

Although cellphones are the modern pocket watch, and the function of the wristwatch will be only replaced by the five second delay of removing your cellphone from your pocket to check the time, perhaps that five seconds would be enough to make you realize ninety percent of the time: I don’t actually need to know this right now.