On Sunday, August 13 Maggie and Mary Margaret eschewed phones, computers, and televisions, observing a technology sabbath. This week Mary Margaret shares her insights on her 24-hour screen break.
August 13, 2017: A midnight to midnight fast completed. No phone, no computer, no screens. I unlocked the screen on my phone once for a friend to do a quick baby-check, (which felt oddly like “cheating”) but upon hearing that no one had gone into labor, off went the phone and popped back into my bag.
My conclusion after this measly 24-hour experiment?I present to you the stages of tech withdrawal…
- Anxiety, Panic, Bargaining:This was firstly and overwhelmingly related to the alarm clock situation. I was so concerned that something would go awry with the clock radio, I would sleep the morning away, miss work, get fired, and my life would go down in a fireball of ruins. This didn’t happen. I woke up before the alarm even sounded—maybe because I was so anxious about the alarm. The funny thing was this anxiety prompting a quibbling with myself about the rules of “no-tech-day,” reasoning, well, maybe it’s okay if I use it as an alarm clock, a wristwatch, or a calculator because I don’t carry those things? But I overruled this bargaining, since this was precisely the point!! I was discovering all the things I rely on my phone for, and how it changed things to do without. I adapted; I made my plans with my friends on Saturday, I looked at wall clocks, I asked strangers for the time, I mused about the weather, I walked over to a store to check their closing time, I pulled out a pocket calculator. I didn’t mind, but it also made me glad that we can do all of these functions with smartphones, because I like simplicity. I’m not a person who wants a kitchen full of appliances that each do one narrowly specific function (oh the apple corer? Yes, just squeeze that in the cabinet between the tree-nut-only food processor and the rice cooker. NOT!) So I’m grateful that I can listen to music, check my email, see the time, make calls, and do calculations without a purse or home full of devices and gadgets. We can discuss later my actual need to DO any of those things on demand, but suffice it to say I like the streamlining a smartphone permits. Obviously when you rely on one thing and it breaks, you’re more temporarily in the lurch, but for me the inconvenience is outweighed by the maintenance and cost of owning and managing everything separately: wristwatch, alarm clock, calculator, music player, landline phone, television, GPS device, etc.
- Sweet, sweet relief. And guilt. Once I was headed towards work, past my concerns about the dreaded oversleeping scenario, I felt the freedom of technology sabbath. I’d released myself from the obligation to call anyone, respond to any texts or emails, or engage with news or social media. And full transparency, part of this relief over not having to engage was directly correlated with current events. I wanted to be blissfully ignorant for 24 hours– a free pass from a self-imposed requirement that I stare into the darkness and acknowledge these most recent occurrences of racism and violence in our country. I didn’t want to know what the president was saying or not saying, and I didn’t want to face any further confirmation of the hatred, divisiveness and fear that Trump’s campaign and presidency has allowed to come bubbling up to the surface from malicious undercurrents of our society. Guilt comes into the equation because our accessibility to information has introduced this idea that we are negligent and wrong to NOT engage with this information. My eagerness to escape the influx of bad news from the past week, North Korea to Virginia and everything in between, points to the wearying effect of this burden of information. I wrote at Lent about limiting the number of news sources I was consuming, and Maggie and I have discussed decreasing the number of times we read about the same disheartening event. I don’t think guilt here is a particularly helpful emotion, nor is simply consuming news for the sake of having thoughts or feelings about the events themselves, but I want to maintain sensitivity and awareness to current events if there is a chance for action that promotes love and justice. I certainly wonder if occasional breaks might help me continue to be shocked and motivated, though, rather than merely fatigued by trying to keep informed.
- Temptation and Habit: It wasn’t only the news that I was relieved to escape, though. I actually enjoyed not needing to engage with the phone: not digging around in my purse and not having the phone physically in my hand. Of course, though, I am so used to reaching for it, though, I did have to actively stop myself throughout the day. When you put your phone down it leaves you open to notice the ubiquity of tech around you. A time-traveling visitor from the past or alien from a distant planet dropped into a New York City subway car would be forgiven for thinking that humans had an extra metal appendage attached to our hands, so it was interesting to look around the city trying to spot people who weren’t engaged with or simply carrying a device of some kind. Fighting my own habit of phone attachment was good practice. There’s no reason to pull out my phone with the frequency I do, and noticing when I had the impulse to was illuminating. Screens aside, equally strong was the impulse to fill the silence by turning on music, a podcast, or making a phone call. Which leads to my next point…
- Openness and Discovery: Disengaging from tech was about decreasing visual and aural stimulation of all kinds, and I truly found myself listening, watching, and observing more throughout the day. Obvious to state, but I was more tuned in to my surroundings and more present with my own thoughts, because I wasn’t listening to or looking at the thoughts and images of others. I realized how habitual my practice of listening to podcasts on my commute home was when I noticed the hum of crickets in Prospect Park as I walked from the train. Even in the middle of the Brooklyn, these creatures chirp, a natural chorus in the midst of the artificial and mechanical buzz of the city. Undoubtedly the best part of tech-free day was this quiet sitting with myself, which is something I typically think I have to leave my “normal” New York City life to engage with. It’s so simple, but I had some nice thinking time, and even mulled over some future writing topics. In releasing myself from the need to engage during the span of a normal day of work and play, without needing to go on a literal vacation, I found a bit of stillness even within that space.
My verdict then as a naturally anxious and somewhat restless soul? I ended tech-free day thinking: so that was tricky. When can we do it again?