Disconnect to connect

Throughout the day there are a lot of important tasks, events and interactions that we must complete. We may have an hour of class, a lunch with a friend and a shift at work. Even if the tasks at hand only account for a few hours of actual effort, we often find ourselves stressing out about how ‘busy’ we are — or at least I do.

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After what I might consider a stressful day of constant effort, I look back on it and notice that I didn’t do much, and achieved even less. Why is this? Why is there such a large gap between what is done and what it feels like I’m doing?

In my opinion, it’s technology. We may only have one or two important appointments in a day, but we remain busy because we ‘fill in the gaps’ of our schedule with technology.

Have an extra second between class? Candy Crush. The person you’re having lunch with goes silent for a second? Get out your phone and send a text message. In the halls alone? Make sure you send a Snapchat.

All of this technological interaction adds stress and business to our lives, and ultimately, doesn’t add much value.

As corny as it might seem, I didn’t begin thinking about this until last week when there was a large lightning storm which caused a power outage at my house. Being alone at the time, I lit a few candles and found a flashlight from the pitch-black basement and began figuring out how I could spend the hour or so.

I brought out my phone, but insultingly, I hadn’t received a text message in minutes and needed another form of instant communication. I opened Facebook — then the obvious notion dawned on me that wireless routers don’t work without electricity.

As trivial as such a situation might seem, I doubt that many other students would not react in the same way that I did. For even a single night, I didn’t feel busy — I brought out some readings I had been putting off, and when someone finally came home, I don’t think I have ever been so excited to see another human being.

Without filling every minute of the day with technology, you have time to accomplish a lot more. Frankly, I’m sure there’s a time where you can go without knowing what your bestie is having for dinner, or what the economic conditions in Japan are like that day — if you put down the phone (or are forced to put down the phone) you may just interact more meaningfully with your immediate environment.

“Precisely because electronic media transmits emotion so poorly compared to in-person interaction,” writes Alex Lickerman, M.D. at Psychology Today. “Many view it as the perfect way to send difficult messages: it blocks us from registering the negative emotional responses such messages engender, which provides us the illusion we’re not really doing harm.”

When we consider difficult messages? It’s not just break-ups or explanations of anger; it could be something as simple (yet potentially awkward) as a “hello” to a stranger. It’s become incredibly difficult in our society without the interface and protection of a battery-powered device or web service.

Perhaps one of the best illustrations I can find for how constant technological consumption can hurt our ability to interact with the world around us is the bus. You are on a moving vehicle with approximately 30 people your age, with whom you go to school, whom you’ve seen in the halls — yet it is considered completely unacceptable to talk to them. If you look around the 116 Glenridge bus, you’ll see headphones and iPhones galore, but no interaction.

Perhaps it’s time we take at least a few minutes a day to put aside the constant connection to secure at least one meaningful, in-person, olden-days, face-to-face connection. You might even like it.

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