Spending 30 days without technology, Collin Cunningham contemplates life before the tech-crazed world.
Words by Collin Cunningham | Photo by Erin McLaughlin
Collin Cunningham reads books while he goes 30 days without technology.
I have something to admit: I’m bitter. I’m bitter because, when I was presented with a request to withhold the use of technology for 30 days, I said yes. I wouldn’t be allowed to watch Netflix, listen to music, play video games or even use the radio in the car, but I said yes. I could still use my computer for schoolwork and emails, and my phone to talk to my parents, so I said yes. And now it’s the first day of my tech-free month, and I’m bitter because I thought I could handle this.
I’m sure these are just the petty rumblings of a recently tech-deprived teenager, but this is going to be rough. I can’t go a whole month without some kind of fiction, whether it be movies or music, which leaves reading as my only option. I’ve stocked up on books and have already begun brainstorming ways to make this month less of a living hell. Wish me luck.
I’m sitting at Scribbles Coffee Co. with a friend, and Vampire Weekend, one of my favorite bands, starts playing on the radio. I bend over the table, place my face in my hands and say, “Ugh, I wish I could listen to Vampire Weekend right now.” My friend looks over at me and says, “Dude, you’re not gonna make it an entire month.” I don’t know whether to feel more embarrassed or disappointed in myself.
I find the urge to use tech less when I leave my phone in my room. The only issue is, on days I have several classes in a row, the only choice I have in an emergency is to find somewhere to sit down and use my laptop. It’s not a perfect situation, but I can deal with it. Another phenomenon I’ve noticed is that I’ve been considering every little, insignificant action I do throughout the day, wondering whether I need to use technology to complete that action. This has led me to ask myself some obvious questions: Can I brush my teeth? Can I go grab something to eat? Can I hang out with a friend?
Most of the time, the answer is yes, but there are exceptions. If some friends want to watch Netflix or go to the Hub, I have to be careful not to look at any TVs. This constant questioning will tone down over the next few days, but this is the biggest lifestyle change I’ve noticed since starting this challenge.
I still do daily activities—going to class, eating, spending time with people—but things feel different. I’ve noticed it’s harder to make concrete plans with people because I used to rely on my phone to contact friends. I now walk to friends’ rooms and knock on their doors in my residence hall to see if anyone wants to do anything—the same way I would get my friends to hang out when I was younger. It’s freeing to go up to someone and spend time with him or her on a whim without having to make plans beforehand. Plans can be arduous, as group messages can be annoying and hard to keep up with, but speaking to someone face-to-face is always a great way to get direct results. Still, sometimes I feel like I’m invading my friends’ privacy when I knock on their doors. I guess everyone is used to using their phones to make plans, too.
To prepare for living without technology, I read Jamie Brian’s living experiment story in last semester’s issue, and I thought mine would be so much easier. After all, I’m not depriving my body of a necessary resource. Or am I?
I’ve noticed my muscles have been twitching instinctively in ways that pantomime how I used to interact with technology on a daily basis. I’m still able to perfectly mimic the motion of pressing the lock button on my phone, and even though I’ve been typing exponentially less, my memory of QWERTY keyboards is solid. I’ve realized it’s hard to commit to any lifestyle change: sometimes psychologically more than physically.
Someone told me about a guy who typed “The Great Gatsby” on a typewriter, so he would know what it felt like to write a great American novel. That man, Hunter S. Thompson, went on to write his own stories, chasing that high he got from pseudo-writing an impactful novel. Maybe spending 30 days without technology will inspire me to shape my entire lifestyle around using as little technology as possible. This month would have been more bearable if I had chosen April or June instead of the middle of January, but the point isn’t to make it easy, although it can get depressing after a while.
The end of this week marks the halfway point, and I made a brief list of the technology that I’m most excited to use again. My number one is listening to music. I use Apple Music on my phone and forgot to cancel my subscription this month, so I’m not getting my $9.99 worth out of February. Of course, I still miss watching Netflix. I’m not a TV devotee, but going without “Comedy Bang! Bang!” in my life for two weeks has me, well, brooding—a common feeling for me as I progress through this experiment.
Although I’ve made more than a few references to a newfound bitterness that has cropped up over the past two weeks, I genuinely believe I’m getting something out of this. For one, I feel more patient. Usually spending several hours without my phone would make me considerably antsy, as I try to answer messages as quickly as possible in order to stay on top of things. But I’ve conditioned myself to not stress out when I’m not able to check my phone, which I hope will become a normal routine for me when this is over.
I’ve been noticing the more pervasive aspects of technology lately. Walking down the Esplanade, I spot at least five or six people at any given time who are actively staring at their phone screens. This is kind of outrageous. Texts can wait until you get inside and aren’t walking down a busy sidewalk, and Instagram and Twitter feeds are still going to be there at the end of the day. Why, then, are people putting themselves in danger and walking to class in a way that is clearly irresponsible? I’m not exactly sure myself, but I’m pretty certain instant gratification plays a role in this.
I’m annoyed at how often my friends will turn to their phones when they’re clearly bored with the social situation immediately in front of them. It’s rare for me to get through a whole meal with friends on campus without them checking their phones multiple times or blatantly looking at social media when they could be having a live conversation. It makes me feel a bit left out, but it disheartens me more than anything. Surely I was guilty of the same, inappropriate phone-peaking during meals and other social gatherings and just wasn’t aware of it until this deprivation began.
Transitioning back to freely using electronic devices won’t be easy. Every time I touch my computer or check my phone before bed, I instinctively feel as though I’m doing something inherently wrong. It’s a strange mindset to be in, but it’s the one I had to place myself in in order to succeed thus far.
After rereading some of these entries, it’s become apparent that I’ve almost been referring to technology as an addiction I’ve dropped cold turkey. I think about whether I’ll “relapse” in my transition back into the electronic world. Was I really addicted to technology? Am I still?
With all of the uses for phones, computers and game consoles in 2016, it’s hard to deny that technology has an overwhelmingly positive effect on society. More people are communicating, and culture gaps around the world are being closed by social networking and global communication. I have friends in California who I’m glad to have had the chance to meet and stay in touch with over the past few years, and I wouldn’t give them up for anything.
At the same time, people are using technology as a crutch. Being able to ostracize yourself from any social situation using your phone might be helpful to avoid awkwardness occasionally but doing it frequently alienates those around you. I’ve come to realize social media is a waste of time and being able to access it from anywhere isn’t good.
Tumblr is my social media platform of choice. I’ve had my blog for longer than my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat accounts, and it’s the one that has always drawn me in the most. I haven’t tapped the dark blue icon on my phone screen for nearly a month, but I know as soon as I do, I’ll be drawn back in.
Everyone’s been asking me how I feel about being done in a few days, and the answer has been the same every time: relieved. I’ve recently started keeping track of how many days I have left, something I haven’t done until now. It feels like I’m a child again, counting down the days until Christmas, but I’m almost more excited and nervous.
Final Two Days.
I’m really happy to be surrounded by people who have made this month easier for me. My friends have been receptive to my temporary lifestyle adjustment, and that just makes me so happy. The amount of patience these people exhibit for me is insane, considering I have my face buried in a book about half the time.
Today was nice; it was warm, I had plenty to do, and it was overall a fitting end to this month that’s been in equal turns bitter and enlightening. I’ve realized that I’ve been spending a decent amount of time in solitude this month, and I wonder if I’m going to miss this. When I have my phone on me, I’m always plugged in to a constantly evolving social situation, even if I don’t really want to be. With my ball and chain tucked safely away, face-down in a drawer in my room, I feel as though I can spend time by myself without being judged. I love to be around people, but I’ve been thinking, and as cliche as it sounds, I’ve come to understand that my own opinions of myself are more valid than those held by other people, and it’s easy to feel better about myself when I’m in tune with me and only me.
This is embarrassing to admit, but the first thing I did after regaining use of technology was watch the “Bee Movie.” Yes, I know. I’m going to be honest: I wouldn’t recommend anyone else going a full 30 days without technology. It’s grueling, even though I did learn a lot. I’d suggest to go for a period of maybe 10 days or two weeks. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, like I did.
But I’m not bitter anymore. Maybe it’s because I watched the “Bee Movie,” or maybe it’s because I think this past month has been good for me. I’m glad I did this, overall. It was tough, but I learned the limits of my patience and underwent a significant lifestyle change that not many people can admit to have experienced. Although I won’t be off technology completely, I feel liberated: free from constantly being connected to people, from worrying about counting likes and from the harsh judgments of the tech-using world.