I hereby reaffirm: the value of an unplugged conversation

Jacob Horn


Editor’s Note: “I hereby reaffirm,” a new corner of The Lawrentian, aims to foster a campus-wide dialogue about personal belief. What do you believe? Think about it, write it down, and send it to lawrentian@lawrence.edu.

This past summer, an old friend of mine and I decided to take a road trip to Kansas City. He knew that it was a little south of Wisconsin and I figured it was a little west, so with nothing but a map of the USA and a weekend of zero responsibilities we set out on our miniscule adventure sans GPS. If we had simply punched in out destination and arrived there in approximately 9 hours and 40 minutes, we wouldn’t have stumbled on the roadside diner with Julie, the cantankerous smoking waitress, or Andy, the gas station attendant who gave us directions — and who also gave us a hard time for not having a GPS.

Spending extended amounts of time without electronic devices opens your eyes to both the benefits and the drawbacks involved with modern technology. Sure, these gadgets aid you in important ways by saving time and organizing your life, but do you really need to spend that extra half hour on Facebook playing Scrabble? Do you really need to check your email for the 20th time today? Much like alcohol consumption and “that’s what she said” jokes, I feel that these tools should be used in moderation.

Two summers ago, five of my closest friends and I packed up a van and headed east with the promise that no one would bring a laptop and that our cell phones would only be used for emergencies. We stayed with a family in New Jersey that showered us in locally-produced pastries known as “Tasty Cakes,” stood on the same stage that Elvis did in Cleveland and talked to a fellow student — he was getting ready for college, expressing his anxieties and expectations.

Maybe I’m simply advocating taking more vacations without the pestering presence of electronic gizmos, but I feel that something has been lost in this transition into a new digital age. During that trip to Kansas City, my friend and I were walking around the city looking at the graffiti when we stumbled upon this elderly man. No GPS could have led us to him. We discussed politics, art, life and other common conversation points. But what struck me most was that before we parted ways, he pulled out a blank card and wrote out his contact info. He was a third generation calligrapher, and the writing he produced was crafted with as much care and precision as any piece of art I had ever seen.

This was a handcrafted artifact in a world of cold and generic electronic messages. In our quest to be digitally connected to the entire world, we shouldn’t risk losing touch with basic human interaction.