Why We All Need a Technological Detox

My addiction probably started when I was 12.

My parents gave me an iPod for Christmas. Sleek and
colorful, it felt like pure science fiction. It felt heavy and important when I
held it. It’s hard to describe that feeling of the first significant piece of
technology I owned, but I’m sure you can relate. It may be blasphemous, but it
was my Red Ryder BB gun.

Along with My Chemical Romance’s entire discography, I would
download podcasts (that ancient form of media), games, videos and audiobooks. My
favorite thing was science fiction—I could nerd-out, alone, uninhibited in my
own digital library. With increasing frequency my bedroom would become
illuminated by the little blue screen late into the night. At some point I
started sacrificing sleep to hang out with my iPod.

These are fond memories, much akin to the age-old trope of
sitting under the covers with a flashlight and a comic book, but they were
really unhealthy.

Fast-forward a decade and my participation in technoculture
has continued uninterrupted. My apartment’s front room is often cluttered with
MacBooks, smartphones, Xbox controllers and various remotes that connect the
54’’ TV to the Internet. Except now, the world of useful information (scholarship,
Microsoft Word, Sakai) has to fight for space in my browser with the vast wealth of
distractions that are increasingly easier to access and more riveting.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I have a terrible attention
span.

After only about a page and a half of dense reading, I find my hand creeping toward my pocket. You know, it’s been a couple
minutes since I checked my phone, I could have an important text message.

No text message, but I should probably check Facebook. One thing leads to another, and I’m commenting “YESHHS” on a photo of a friend wearing a dismantled
bed-sheet toga and drinking straight from a bag of Franzia. While I’m at it, I
should change the playlist from “study-dubstep” to “hip-hop hits: orchestral
remix.”

You get the point. Sooner than I realize, my 90-minute chunk
of study time has resulted in reading eight-and-a-half pages and reformatting
the community service section of my LinkedIn profile.

What’s even sadder is that I find myself checking my phone
before I go to sleep and immediately after waking up. At parties, I find
myself scrolling through text conversations as real ones happen all around me.
It’s an addiction.

This is not without serious consequence. Technology can be a
rabbit-hole where my good grades and self-esteem get lost and never return. I
know I’m not alone in feeling this; I see it in my friends, too: “Do we have
time for one more game of FIFA? Probably not, but let’s do it anyway.”

Many studies on the brain have indicated that the blips and
the brightly colored push notifications actually change the way we think. Smart
phones and Facebook have the ability to keep us eternally connected and
instantly gratified whenever we want it. In fact, that’s exactly what it’s
designed to do: keep you captivated.

The result is that I’m adept at thinking and communicating
quickly or collaborating to solve problems. But I also have trouble focusing and thinking deeply and quietly. Distractions are plentiful, and my
natural default is to give in to them.

It’s not just our attention spans, either. The more we
record digitally, the less we actually remember. The things that make us
anxious—deadlines, drama, work—are harder to get away from. I’m constantly
changing my plans last minute and arriving late because I know how easy it is
to send a “srry I’m gonna be 5 min late :/” text. It’s become apparent that my
addiction to technology is keeping me from being a real, happy, adult human
being.

I don’t want to pretend like I’m Amish, either. I love my
MacBook; I love my smart phone. I love my tech. But the point that I want to
make is this: Our relationship with technology is two-directional. On one hand
it’s a powerful tool in a curious student’s hands. On the other, it’s a relentless
addiction. Our initial feelings of awe and adoration devolve into a
cycle of useless captivation and convenience.

Learning to cultivate the first, and manage the second, is
one of the most important skills I’ll develop in college.

I’ll stop short of suggesting that true mindfulness can only
come from abandoning your iPhone and Facebook. That’s impractical, except for the
select few sociopaths with the weird and impressive ability to go without. What
I’m going to try this semester is to set aside a significant chunk of time
every week where I won’t touch my phone and I won’t connect to the Internet.

I’m going to spend some time away from the Matrix. I don’t
think this makes me behind the times, or overly sentimental about the world
before Snapchat, but just the opposite.

So come join me in the real world if you feel the same way.
Let’s feel the pain of being unplugged together.

Sam Pitcavage CM ’15 is a government and economics
major, athlete and dining hall enthusiast from Beaverton, Ore.

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