You’re kidding, right?
Yes, those were the words of, well, pretty much every student in our Communication and Citizenship course when we announced a recent assignment: Give up all technology for four days straight.
You’re kidding, right? Nope. This will be painful! I know, right? Impossible. Not really. Rather, a life-changing assignment providing every one of our mostly technology-addicted 86 students to experience from an alien-like perspective: completely unplugged.
While the results and ruminations of our students’ unplugged experience could fill the pages of The Scroll well into 2012, the thoughts of Kathryn Babb and Kate Bowen express poignantly the pain, suffering, learning and growing of almost every student in COJO 111 during their tiptoeing back into – gulp – a pre-Facebook era. Below are excerpts from their essays: Kathryn’s aptly titled “Digital Addiction: A Legal Drug?” and Kate’s first sentence featuring a more raw/PG13 expression of “You’re kidding, right?” (keep reading, if you’re not 12 or under):
Kathryn: Thankfully, my experience of unplugging from digital influence produced much-needed serenity in my life for four days. My expectations for myself were relatively low at the outset. … At first [during spring break] I found myself walking around with not much to do, but after a while I took a liking to lying in the sun by the pool with no iPod, no cell phone and no computer. It was then that one of my most brilliant ideas came along. I decided to pick up a book of fiction and read – for fun. From this I learned two things: reading is more fun than watching television, and I am a sucker for romance tales.
Kate: Initially, when asked to complete this assignment I thought to myself, “Hell no!” Take away Internet and I’d probably be all right. Without schoolwork the only purpose it serves is the occasional Facebook creeping binge, something I should probably take a break from. Take away my cell phone and I’d most likely be fine. I don’t text often anyway. Its main purpose is to talk to my parents and I could use a cut-off from the umbilical cord. But my television? You’ve got to be kidding me, right? For me, each night of the week has its designated television show. My shows range from drama to comedy but my real weakness is trashy reality T.V. “Jersey Shore,” “The Bachelor,” “The Real World” – you name it, I watch it.
Kathryn: If I had been thrust into unplugging three months ago, the mother of all digital addictions, Facebook, would have been a killer for me to go without. Fortunately, I had already severed the Facebook tie and have now been satisfyingly sober for three months.
Kate: Upon my arrival home (for spring break) I dug a large brown box out of our never-ending storage room and in it I placed my cell phone, iPod and computer. I made a vow to myself to not listen to music in the car and gave my friends and family fair warning of my inability to be easily contacted. I decided to grant a little leeway by allowing myself one television show a night. … Later that night, a storm hit the city of Cannon Falls. Because the storm happened on a Friday night, appointments (with Dish Network technicians) weren’t available until Monday and the company was booked solid. It would be five days before the gods of digital media could save me.
Kate: Most of my friends either did not have the same spring break week or were off gallivanting in a more fortunate climate, so distraction was not easy to come by. Ollie, also known as man’s best friend, was my companion for the week. Instead of watching television, we went on walks. Instead of logging onto Facebook, I taught her a few tricks and I may or may not be admitting to reading her a few stories. … I even went back to my roots and did some arts and crafts.
Kathryn: Alas, my experience did not come without a couple ‘oops’ moments. A painful side effect of being addicted to exercise-induced endorphins is the compulsion to listen to strong beats to enhance the high. My iPod was too tempting to resist; I just could not run without it.
Kate: I would be lying if I said my creative distractions made this assignment easy. There were times I went through withdrawals and one night I even cracked – the night of the “Jersey Shore” finale.I called a friend and watched the show at her house, but I sincerely felt badly about it! … Being unplugged was no easy feat. Although I looked forward to being saved on the fifth day by the cable guy … by the end of the experiment I felt a sense of peacefulness without electronics.
Kathryn: The beginning of the digital age marked the, ‘I’ll-have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too-but-only-if-you-feed-it-to-me’ trend that pervades Americans’ ideologies. It is my opinion that “Generation Me,” as it is often referred to, craves the proverbial independent relationship from their parents, but does very little to earn it. As Dan Kennedy explores in “Plugged In, Tuned out” (an article in the fall 2007 issue of CommonWealth), “Civic life, the ideal of an informed citizenry, and our ability to govern ourselves” are being given the boot by the collective ignorance on important issues and convergence on meaningless propaganda that abducts our time and robs our sense of what is at stake.
Ah, the Digital Age. If only we knew precisely what it’s doing to us and exactly what comes next. Until then, the best advice of the experts and our students: Text, Facebook, Ipod, LinkIn, log in, upload, app store and creep (oh, and watch reality TV in hi-def ) with caution. And, always, in moderation. Timeless advice, right?