For the second time this semester, my column is inspired by a lack of technology. The night before I flew home for Thanksgiving, my phone turned off and would not turn back on. While my initial reaction was similar to the frustration I felt when my laptop’s graphics card short-circuited a few weeks back, it was quickly replaced by relief.
Let me make a few things clear before I explain that perhaps-unexpected response. I love consumer electronics. These incredible gadgets can improve our lives in countless ways. They provide accessibility, convenience, and entertainment like never before. There is no denying the powerful influence that these products have had on a societal and individual level. For the most part, I think these changes are good.
However, there is another side to this transformation. We are a generation that grew up with the Internet and all of the simultaneous privileges and costs that come with an unprecedented level of connectivity. The ability to constantly check in with our friends via social media and text messages makes communication easier than ever. But it also creates a desire to stay in touch with everyone all the time.
We all know that person who always seems to be checking their phone, or the friends who confess to spending hours scrolling through their news feed. Thanks to our constant connection to the Web, we have more difficulty focusing on the reality around us. Even more troubling, we often do not realize how our online connections are actually disconnecting us.
Fortunately, there is an easy solution. To get the most out of spending time with your family or your friends, just turn off your phone. Keep it off and put it away. Leave it alone for a few days. You do not need it.
I had the luxury of forcibly following this strategy while at home for break. When your phone is out of commission, you have no choice but to make do. I learned that it is not as difficult as you might think. For example, when everyone around you has a phone, there is bound to be a person willing to let you borrow one to make a quick call. For example, one stranger’s kindness made it much easier to find my parents outside the terminal when they picked me up from the airport.
Of course, there are some adjustments to a phone-less lifestyle. You may reach into a pocket only to remember it is empty, or dig through a purse looking for something that is not there. Unless you wear a watch, you will probably lose track of time. Worst of all, your Snapchats will remain unopened. These annoyances are well worth the benefits, however.
By limiting your communications to the people you are physically with, you will be more engaged in those conversations. You will not have to think of a response to the text you just received while listening to one of your uncle’s stories. Free from distraction, you will listen more closely and participate more fully. Especially around the holidays, not having a phone is a wonderful problem to have.
Keep in mind, I am not saying that we should do away with all of this amazing technology and return to a simpler time. I will be very excited when my phone is fixed. I simply wanted to point out that life without a cell phone is not the worst. It is worth trying, even if just for a little while.
These days it is so easy to lose ourselves in our online lives that we can lose sight of the things happening right in front of us. For those of us who can only visit our families a few times during the year, it is important to make the most of those opportunities. So the next time you are packing your bags, you might want to consider ‘forgetting’ your phone. Despite how often you use it, not having it does not change very much. Not anything important, anyway.