Reflection on #1WkNoTech

Introduction

My reflection on #1WkNoTech is threefold. First, modern society’s dependence on and frequent use of technology tends to make us less happy. Second and in spite of No. 1, everything from work to play has so inscribed technology into our lives that it’s hard to pull away, even if we realize it would behoove us to do so. And third, the notion of technology is a nebulous one — it can be as wide as anything created or manipulated by humans or as narrow as anything with a screen and buttons — with new and powerful technology usually interpreted as more distracting, more destructive and more likely to compromise intrinsic human ideals such as innocence, imagination and togetherness.

Sometimes I inadvertently play a game of #1DayNoTech. During the summer, I spend a day in Canal Park and at the beach; during the winter, I build a snow fort with my much-younger cousins. OK, it’s not always a full day, but sometimes it’s close, and by the end of it, I feel satisfied in a way being in front of a screen all day isn’t able to replicate. During #1WkNoTech, people, albeit facetiously, tweeted about their newfound appreciation for the little things in life, the things overlooked and overshadowed in a world where technology seems to be everywhere. Putting the phone away and shutting down the computer tends to make us feel closer: closer to people, closer to nature, closer to ourselves. So why are we so reluctant or even unable to pull away?

What makes faithfully (not facetiously) executing a project like #1WkNoTech next to impossible is the degree to which technology has permeated our institutions, and as a result, seemingly every corner of our lives. A week without technology likely means a week without work, as sending emails, talking on the phone and using the computer are vital activities at most places of employment. A week without technology likely means a week without school, as email and Moodle are the forums in which information is shared, direction is given and business is handled; and as Google Docs is the medium through which many students submit work, discuss ideas and receive feedback. Finally, a week without technology is a week uninformed and disconnected from the rest of the world, as the Internet is our great library, our familiar meeting place, our answer to questions that used to be unanswered or put on hold.

But what is technology? A day building a slipshod-but-functional igloo with my cousins feels fun, rewarding and most importantly, distant from the cold, metallic glow of technology. Where would I have been, though, without that shovel in my hands? That hat on my head? Those boots on my feet. These were all inventions, new objects at one time or another. They were engineered, produced and then mass-produced, improved upon and commercialized. Unequivocally, they are technologies. And that’s where the rules governing #1WkNoTech become blurred. We associate our computers and phones with our increasingly impersonal, perhaps jaded world, but we don’t do the same with shovels and shoes. While these objects behave differently and serve varying purposes, the old are no less technological than the new. How long must an object exist before it ceases being technology, if ever? When it comes to eliminating objects from our lives during a project like #1WkNoTech, why do our brains immediately target some technologies but not others?

Benefits of pulling away

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A common theme during #1WkNoTech was the sense of relief, calm and happiness that accompanied time spent away from computers and other advanced technologies. Ashlyn said a man who appeared to be homeless was having more fun playing with a puppy than she has seen experienced by people playing on their phones. Her observation speaks on two levels. First, this man, who presumably has nothing — no phone, no laptop, no reliable ways to stay warm and keep from going hungry — was made happy by one of life’s simpler pleasures. He didn’t need expensive software or the latest game; he just needed another living thing. Second, Ashlyn took the time to observe this scene and make the connection between the man’s happiness and the lack thereof when it comes to people playing on their phones. Would she have made that observation if, in that moment, she had been one of them?

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A step beyond simply observing a scene in the physical world, this Twitter user and #1WkNoTech participant had lunch with an old friend. What’s more, Pressure Pusher, who I can only presume is a sleepy yellow dog, didn’t feel tempted to pick up his or her phone during lunch. For technology’s ability to connect people near and far — email, texting, phone, etc. — it is an equally if not stronger force of division. I’ve been in stimulating conversations with friends and, for a reason I can’t completely explain, I find myself reaching for my phone to check if Beyonce has left me a voicemail or something. Eradicating such habits can benefit our relationships and make us more desired and conscientious lunch partners.

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The world seems to hold less magic and fewer possibilities as we age. But aging coincides with the passage of time, which coincides with the evolution and increased potency of technology. Growing up, I had no brothers. And while my twin sister was a more than adequate playmate, at times she didn’t feel like engaging in my games. So I would head outside with a ball under my arm and play games like Amy’s. It was, surprisingly, fun. About 15 years later, I don’t even consider such games an option when I’m bored or unsatisfied with whatever is on TV. These games probably have more power over us when we’re young, when our imaginations are ripe and we’re catching a pop fly in the World Series instead of a ball off the wall. But Amy’s account suggests it’s not simply a matter of growing up; it might also be the fact we find other ways to entertain ourselves and don’t give such games a chance.

A complete reliance

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This Twitter user and #1WkNoTech participant was lost looking for a quality restaurant without assistance from the Internet. Her decision to stay home instead of walking into a restaurant blind — without reviews — not only illustrates our dependence on technology to give us the information necessary to make decisions but also indicates we have been programmed to distrust that which we do not know of, that which has not been documented online. Another student posed in a tweet the question whether a romantic relationship is real if the participants don’t post the relationship to Facebook. In our documentary society, we seem to have lost the ability to simply live; we look to technology, namely the Internet, to authenticate and make official the things we see, hear and feel. Without technology’s stamp of authenticity, we are less likely to trust what we observe and encounter in physical reality.

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Poor Paulina here had to ask another human being whether the USC football team won its game against Cal last Saturday. The Internet  and its arms have become in the last five, 10 years our encyclopedia and our newspaper. It can tell us whether it’s going to rain tomorrow, whether the snake over there is poisonous and whether our symptoms point to the common cold or something more serious. With the Internet, the answer to nearly every know-able question rests in our hands and on our laps. People today have little reason to memorize or inquire a stranger, as the information we seek can be obtained in a much more efficient, reliable and impersonal way.

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It’s really no wonder Granny didn’t roll the dice with an unknown restaurant and Paulina felt weird asking USC’s fate. Technology is inscribed into almost everything we do and consume. Some college professors chide students for having their laptop open or phone out during class, but their very classes would cease functioning without the benefit of technology. During #1WkNoTech alone, I turned in three assignments online and had more than 10 remote conversations integral to my responsibilities as a student. In elementary school, I used to get physical worksheets, which I would turn in to the teacher’s tray on his or her desk. In college, I receive prompts and assignment descriptions online, and I turn in my work remotely, as well. Our schools, our offices and our establishments have employed technology in such a way it is a muscle memory, an aspect that has infiltrated our private lives.

A matter of circumstance

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But where should we draw the line, and if we’re trying to tame our use of technology, with what should we draw it? Like a stylus that accompanies an iPad, a pencil is technology. Like a laptop on which we can stream music and podcasts, this Twitter user’s old radio is technology. By the letter of #1WkNoTech, her antique radio is a “no-no.” By the letter of #1WkNoTech, doors and stairs should be outlawed, as well. Technology is defined by its ability to solve problems and assist with tasks artificially, in way the natural world doesn’t afford. A door, like the latest computer, solves problems and assists with tasks that otherwise would go unaddressed by nature.

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It’s an ostensible argument that a computer is clearly a feat of technology and a paperback book isn’t. But why does that argument seem at least superficially true? Both objects were created through the use of elaborate machinery; both objects solve problems or assist with tasks; and both objects do not naturally occur in the world. The fact books (roughly as we know them today) came about with the advent of the printing press almost 600 years ago seems to tempter their identity as a technology as compared to computers, which didn’t begin evolving until the middle of the 20th century. But like sundials versus iPhones, there are only subjective ways to argue books are less a technology than computers. The time and order in which we invent things is largely determined by circumstance. If humans were to redo the last 10,000 years, it’s possible computers would be invented before the standardized paperback book, in which case computers might seem less a technology than books. Conventional wisdom tells us computers are much more complex and challenging to design than books, so computers surely would be developed first. But who’s to say, while we have computers, spaceships and TVs; there isn’t an incredibly simple invention we haven’t yet made that would ease a particular aspect of life? We can design an unmanned spacecraft capable of traveling millions of miles and landing on a distant planet, but we can’t (or chose not to) design and mass-produce a car that travels 100 miles to a gallon of gas.

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What’s interesting about #1WkNoTech is the discussion it inevitably triggers. Participants will have different opinions of what technology is and isn’t, and they will have different opinions of what constitutes a use of technology: Is passively watching a movie in a theater (as opposed to actively searching for and watching a movie online) a use of technology? What about elevators versus stairs? Stop signs versus stoplights? Not only does #1WkNoTech trigger a consideration of what technology is; it also causes us to consider the role technology plays in our lives, what technology adds and subtracts and how it can be used to maximize its benefits and minimize its drawbacks.

Conclusion

To sum up, technology seems to make us less happy. At the very least, pulling away from technology seems to improve our mood. Not only that, pulling away increases our capacity to soak in and appreciate the world around us. It can improve our relationships and help us reconnect with old friends. It can let us have more fun and make us more fun around which to be.

Regardless of the benefits, pulling away from technology is hard. Technology in all its iterations is so tightly woven into the fabric of modern society that we’re nearly helpless to work, learn and play without it. To function in today’s workplaces, today’s schools and today’s communities, technology is an ingredient that can’t be replaced. If we have access at home and in public to the powerful, highly addictive tools that propel or professional and academic worlds, we are almost helpless in efforts not to use them. They have become so inscribed into us, such a part of us that we’re essentially programmed to use our phones, computers and TVs, even if we don’t really want to.

Lastly, the objects we tend to regard as technology and those we tend to regard as “things” — as if they have always been around — are grouped largely by social and historical constructs. Participants in #1WkNoTech probably thought not to use their computers. But they probably didn’t consider not to read books. If technology is defined as manmade objects that solve problems and assist with tasks, then computers and books fall into the same basket. The conventional wisdom computers are technology and books aren’t is based largely on the fact books preceded computers, which is the result of circumstance, not one being less a technology than the other. Someone ducking a conversation with a stranger by burying his or her face in a book is hiding behind technology in precisely the same manner as someone burying his or her face in an iPad.

So while pulling away from technology seems to make us feel better and soak in more of the intrinsic properties of life, pulling away isn’t so easily don.e Our institutions use technology heavily; technology is the medium through which information is shared, decisions are made and business is handled. It seems unreasonable to expect people to pull away from technology in their private lives. What constitutes technology, though, is up for debate. Using a letter of the law approach, it seems objects that have existed for hundreds and even thousands of years are as much technology as objects being created in laboratories as I write. In that case, #1WkNoTech seems an even bigger ask.

 

 

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#1WkNoTech story outline

Monday

6 a.m. I wake up, apprehensive but excited to begin my week without technology.

9 a.m. It feels good to get away, but I find myself still reaching for my phone and laptop.

Tuesday

8 a.m. My professor canceled class, but I show up anyway, because I didn’t get his message on Moodle.

4 p.m. My mom sends a text asking why I didn’t respond to yesterday’s texts.

Wednesday

11 a.m. It’s exam day in one of my classes. The problem: The exam is administered online. Looks as if I’ll be taking a zero.

12 p.m. I visit the professor whose exam I was forced to skip, and she doesn’t buy my excuse. I’ll have to work hard this next month to raise my grade.

Thursday

9 a.m. My sister asks why I’m not answering Mom’s texts. If I use my sister as an envoy, and she uses technology to tell my mom what I’m up to, am I violating the rules of the game?

4 p.m. I finish that book that’s been sitting for months on my nightstand. On to the next.

Friday

3 p.m. I’m done with class for the week, and I’m relieved my avoidance of technology might be a little easier to cope with during the weekend.

5 p.m. I want to order a pizza, but I can’t call or order online. Well, I’m not going to drive there. Toast and saltines it is.

Saturday

9 a.m. I’m feeling more relaxed; I’m carrying less weight on my shoulders. No technology really has freed up my mind and body.

12 p.m. I hear my phone ringing. It’s my mom. Uh-oh.

Sunday

10 a.m. I really need to start on some homework, but that would require me to use my computer. Looks as if I’ll be cramming everything into Monday morning.

7 p.m. I finish my second book of the week. On to the next. War and Peace perhaps?

Top 5 worst things that would happen if I gave up tech for a week and why

5. I might fall behind on news

I rely largely on technology to keep me informed of current events and news. Cutting ties with technology for a week would almost certainly put me more out of the loop than I perhaps already am. That said, I am a big newspaper person, and I’d be able to compensate in that way. Talking to people might also help. In school, before technology had swelled to the extent it has now, I used to learn a lot by talking to people.

4. I might get bored

In an earlier post I mentioned technology seems to make time pass more quickly. When I have a couple hours between classes, I find a quiet spot, pull out my computer, and before I know it, it’s time for class again. Without the constant distractive glow of my computer or phone, I think I’d get bored in certain contexts. Technology helps me bridge the gap from an undesirable situation to one that is desirable.

3. I might miss out

I mentioned this in an earlier post, as well. I fear that, by spending a lot of time on technology, I’m missing out on life. But today, so much of life unfolds online and through technology that, by dropping technology for a week, I might miss out on even more. I think a balance is necessary here, which I feel is at the heart of this assignment.

2. My grades might slip

In some ways, college seems a highly hypocritical contradiction. I’ve had professors who proscribe the use of technology in class, but those same professors tend to rely strongly if not singularly on technology outside of class. Students are expected to check their email and the class Moodle site daily if not more frequently, exams are administered online and grading is, too. Not being able to enter this realm, while perhaps liberating, would most likely cripple my ability to succeed as a student.

1. My relationships might suffer

It wouldn’t be long — I’d guess 12-18 hours — before my friends, family, professors or colleagues became perturbed I hand’t responded to a phone call, email or text. What I fear most about dropping technology for a week are the social consequences. What if a friend needs my help? What if a professor needs to pass along an important piece of information. What if my mom leaves a voicemail?

Top 5 things that would happen if I gave up technology for a week and why

5. I might make a new friend

Who knows? Maybe I’d make a new friend, or even friends. I don’t feel I use technology to avoid interacting with other humans, but I do feel I too often choose technology over no technology — a decision that tends to block those interactions. Of course, making a new friend also would depend on the other person not using technology, which is a big ask.

4. I might worry less

I’m not a particularly nervous or anxious person, but technology tries to make me that way. I can feel it. I don’t blame media for reporting heavily on grave subjects — I think that’s better than the alternative — but watching the news and scrolling through my newsfeed sometimes sucks all life and hope from my being. It would be nice if that didn’t happen.

3. I might live in the moment

I’ve observed a strange thing in the last few years. Sometimes I need to remind myself which month it is. I don’t have to think long to remember, but sometimes I forget the month, my age and my year in school. That’s odd, I think. I don’t recall that happening to me when I was younger and more loosely connected to technology. I think technology makes me live less in the moment and more in the past, future or some alternate reality.

2. I might notice things

When I leave my computer at home and my phone dies, I think, “Well, that’s it. I’m on my own.” But a strange thing happens when I’m not plugged into a device. I notice things like the sound birds make and how at least 60 percent of students between classes walk through the halls with their eyes set on their phone. “If I had remembered to charge my phone last night, I’d be one of them,” I think to myself. No technology helps me enjoy the more fundamental aspects of life.

1. I might read more

I love to read; I have a very long reading list and a small library of books — classic to contemporary — I’ve never read hidden away in my bedroom closet. With homework, my job and other life responsibilities demanding much of my time, I often lament the fact I don’t read as often as I’d like. But when I think about it, I spend a few hours every night online, reading stories, watching YouTube videos and altogether ricocheting around the Internet. If I used at least one of those hours each night to read a book, I could burn through a lot of books. Perhaps I’ll do that.

Top 5 ways tech makes me feel worse and why

5. There are more things to learn

For all the information to which technology gives us access, it also expects us to take time to learn technology itself and its different uses. The programs, social media platforms and software in which students today are expected to be fluent and skilled is absurd.

4. I’m too easy to reach

I wish I could go home from work or school and be done with it. The only means by which people used to be reachable at home was the phone, and now email and text can be added to the list. Before, it wasn’t even a list. It was just the phone, and you always could claim you missed the call. It’s harder to claim you missed the call, the email and the text. Not to mention the Facebook message.

3. Seeing things that anger me

There’s this weird thing I do where I enter the comment sections on Tea Party Facebook pages just to read the squalid rantings of the people who subscribe to the pages. I like to do it, but it always makes me feel worse.

2. I can look back at life

Sometimes I’ll be on the computer and wonder, “Whatever happened to that actor from 2001?” or, “Is that animated movie from my youth on YouTube?” Technology lets me find out the actor is addicted to cocaine now, and the movie I remembered is poorly animated and has unrealistic dialogue.

1. Fear of missing out

Whenever I look at the clock on my computer and think, “It’s been four hours?” it pains me. Life — in all its natural, unpredictable and inspiring splendor — seems to move much more slowly than technology, and there seems to be much more to enjoy.

Top 5 ways tech makes me feel better and why

5. Keeping aware of friends and their lives

I’ve gotten quite stingy when it comes to accepting friends on Facebook; my newsfeed is basically a simulation of my high school days and my family reunions, because who wouldn’t want to relive those two things, together, daily? Some of my high school friends have already gotten fat, which makes me feel better.

4. Communities and shared experience

Technology allows like-minded people across the world to convene. The Internet reminds us, no matter the quirks we all possess, there are people who enjoy, despise and think about the same things we do.

3. It makes life, work easier

Information, ideas and documents can be shared with the click of a mouse (or trackpad). I can communicate with others and complete tasks from my home, which is one of my favorite places.

2. Music

Music makes me feel better, and I wouldn’t have music (at least not as much of it and almost all the time) if not for technology. A world without music is life without color.

1. It’s like a library in my hand

I can know anything, anytime, anywhere. That’s pretty cool, and it comes in handy.

Top 5 worst public tech behaviors and why

5. Listening to music through headphones

We’ve all done it. In fact, I did it yesterday. It works as a wall that discourages communication and shared experience.

4. Hard-to-notice phone earpieces

When you’re at the grocery store, and a seemingly pleasant stranger strikes up a conversation with you. Except 10 seconds later, the stranger mentions he’s at the store (which you already know) and he’s going to bring home pizza for dinner (which seems like an odd thing to say to a stranger). And you realize your mistake.

3. Technology as an escape

When people whip out their phones to extricate themselves from an awkward or even dull situation: going through a store checkout, waiting for the bus, riding the bus. Pretty much anything associated with public transportation.

2. In-the-moment social media posts

Your friend orders a spinach and feta wrap, and it looks really good. And your friend snaps a photo of it and posts the photo to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, because this amalgamation of bread, vegetable and cheese needs to be cataloged properly.

1. “I’m gonna need to take this”

It’s been done unto us, and we’ve probably done it unto others. Putting on hold a face-to-face interaction in favor of a phone call — or worse, a text. Unless you’re waiting to hear the results of your job interview or major medical test, this isn’t OK.

A blog by Kyle Farris