When notifying my family and friends that I would be renouncing my use of social media and technology for a week, there wasn’t much surprise. As a stint I’ve been pulling for years, I wanted to amp it up to the next level. After some brainstorming, I decided my technology-free experiment would include not turning lights on, not using appliances which plug in, as well as refraining from social media and using my cell phone. Although this week was bound to have its challenges, the response from certain people reaffirmed how dependent we’ve become on our gadgets. To many, the prospect of spending a week without curling irons, stoves and texts was a fate worse than death. Luckily, with my buzz cut, raw food diet and adventurous spirit, this was a welcome break from our technology saturated world.
Waking up in the morning to candle light was a soothing start to my day. In a world of twenty four hour accessibility, florescent lighting is difficult to escape. Although I couldn’t avoid public spaces where lights were already turned on, I learned to savour the first demi lit hours of the morning. The ambience seemed much calmer with everything washed in a soft glow. Just as my settings were transformed by a return to outdated technology, I wanted my forms of communication to be devolved as well. I received a flash of inspiration thinking back to the glory of my junior high school days. A year or two before the massive overtake of cell phones as the main mode of communication, teenage sophistication could be measured by your ability to pass a note around the entire classroom without being caught. For my Facebook-free week, I made hand-written notes and left them as surprises in friends’ backpacks, pockets and purses. As people began to discover them, it was delightful to hear how much this simple gesture warmed people’s days. Even though we receive hundreds of electronic notes on a daily basis, people still appreciated the authentic and personalized feel of a hand-written message.
Social media is meant to be a way for us to easily communicate and feel connected, but one of the worse traps that can occur is allowing our digital presence to replace face to face interaction. As proof of a theory that there is more to meaningful connections than the words we use, I asked several of my friends to share a few minutes of silent eye contact. Three minutes of silence spent in this intimate way can feel like a surprisingly infinite amount of time. Some friends couldn’t help but burst out into laughter, others had a single tear fall down their cheek and sometimes we stared much longer than our allotted three minutes. Eyes have always been a mysterious gateway to the human psyche. Not even a perfectly angled selfie can capture what is locked behind these personal portals. After sharing space in this way, my friends and I promised even after I have logged back onto Facebook that we’d continue to meet every once and a while just to take a look.
Technological advancements in many fields are one of the most exciting privileges of our modern age. Yet as our technology advances, it’s important to advance our human capacities as well. I’ve often imagined that the world might be a better place if everyone treated their bodies like they treated their technology. I could only imagine what life would be like if we responded to our emotional needs as quickly as a text, or if our yawns were responded to in the same way as a low battery signal. How much more enjoyable our days might be if we got as many handshakes as our fridge, or as much eye contact as our televisions. We love our technology because it’s designed to be easy, useful and engaging. Humans are a different story. We’re subject to making mistakes, to misinterpreting the data and an inefficiency that would make any robot cringe. But there’s still something intrinsically vital to our quality of life, which stems from building meaningful connections with our fellow unpredictable humans. My week without technology made me appreciate how easy our life has become, but has also made me see how many new challenges it has presented as we learn to navigate authentic interaction in a world of screens. Although I’m not suggesting we ditch our Macs and return to hunter gatherer ways, an occasional trip to the woods to sit with friends and share stories around a camp fire may be the best way to unplug from our complex systems of living and remind ourselves of the simple joy of being together.
Have you gone unplugged? Let me know in the comments below!