“My technology-free day was a nightmare,” exclaims one student at the very beginning of her final presentation on technology, nature, and her inner experiences of both. This exclamation has amused me so much that I have repeated it often through the day when describing this project to other students and colleagues at Saint Francis University, a small university tucked into the hills of the Allegheny mountains in central Pennsylvania.
As part of the curriculum in my Environmental Sociology class, students are asked to journal on two different but related kinds of experiences: two technology-free days and 6 times in nature, in solitude without cell phones or iPods. Their reactions to these types of experiences are both startlingly profound and surprisingly life changing, but in actuality, life-enhancing. In this article, I will relate their experiences with technology-free days.
For this assignment, I have given them some instruction, but I have left it up to them how they want to define a technology-free “day.” Knowing how addicted most of my undergraduate students are to their cell phones, laptops with Face book, and iPods, I am loathe to tell them how long they should go without such supports. Some students really stretch themselves and define a day as an actually day- from sun-up until after dinner. Others can only go so far as to define one hour as their ‘day.’ I ask them to consider the following questions and write about them in their journals.
How does it feel to spend a day without technology? What effect does it have on your mood? Your mind? Your emotions? What differences do you notice between a technology day & a technology-free day? Similarities? What are some things you like about a technology-free day & why? What did you not like and why? How has being technology-free affected your social interactions? Explain. Please describe any other observations.
In our culture, most of us have become dependent on communication technology in some form or another. And most of us have become dependent on that technology without being aware of how much we rely on it. For example, we text friends, we blog and we ‘Facebook’ (and create a new verb in the process). With college students, I am amazed, and secretly touched, by how often they call their parents. Many students claimed to call their parents every single day. Others said they called their parents, usually their mom, between each & every class. Some students complained about missing meetings or practices without technology (apparently, their schedule changes each day & this is how they are informed).
On the other hand, I am also dismayed by how much computer interaction has replaced face-to-face interaction with college-age students who live right down the hall from each. They report to me that they might IM their friend, rather than simply walk down the hall to say hi.
I have used this assignment for hundreds of students over several years in dozens of classes. I am always amazed by the insightful awareness this simple exercise brings to them about their social interaction and their lifestyle. The following are a SELECT FEW of their personal reactions:
Being Present: “In a day without technology, you are completely concentrated on what you are doing & who you are with. You have no distractions to take you away from that place. My mind was into what I was doing.”
Becoming more social: “This activity made me more social because in order to see what time to go to dinner and the time I had to go up to people and ask them instead of texting them or instant message. I also notice(d) how beautiful this campus really is.”
“Technology-free days (have) improved my social interactions. I engage in more conversations with my friends & girls in my dorm than just sitting in the room talking on instant message and through texting. Talking face to face with people is more personal than just sending IMs and texts.”
Waste of Time: “Ultimately, it wastes my time. The thought crossed my mind, ‘What do I really get accomplished with using technology?'”
Addiction to technology: (During a 7.5 hour bus ride to her basketball match, without technology,) “I didn’t think I was going to make it. When we stopped at our first rest stop, I was tempted to ask the bus driver to open the bottom of the bus, but instead my teammate encouraged me and I decided not to. When we got to the hotel, I immediately reached in my book bag for my phone because I really wanted to see my missed calls, text messages, and voicemails. I felt like a drug addict. I realized how obsessed I was with my cell phone.” “(Without my phone), I did not know what to do with myself. I felt like I was going crazy. It definitely mixed my emotions up and had me feeling sad at some points, but then again happy because I accomplished not using my devices on the bus.”
Spending time with family: One student extended the Tech-free day to her family: “As I was sitting in the living room yesterday, the phone rang. I glanced up and looked at our television. Our caller id comes up in every TV in the house. Just as I looked back down at my laptop, my sister instant-messaged me and asked who was calling. It was that moment that I realized how severely dependent my family is on modern technology. Later that night, I told my mother the story. She knows that my sister & I live in separate rooms and just message each other if we need something. So I asked her if for one night, the four of us could do something as a group. She thought this was a great idea!”
They went on to play 2 games of SORRY and 1 game of SCATTERGORIES. “To our surprise, we had fun…..Who knows! Maybe this will become our new tradition!”