The idea of unplugging to relax – gain some peace and quiet if you will – while completely disconnecting from all tech distractions is tempting. There have been many times where the idea of completely turning off my phone for an entire day seems alluring. I have friends who disconnect their Facebook temporarily during busy times of their lives such as during finals or report card season. But is the all or nothing approach all rainbows and lollipops? Being addicted to your phone isn’t creating a healthy relationship, but this “yo-yo” relationship of using tech and detoxing from it continually, in my opinion, isn’t the healthiest approach either.
When first signing up for the debate, my team and I rushed to sign our names up under the “agree” side. Our first instinct was that we were becoming too dependent on technology and we need to unplug. We were interested in arguing with the side we felt most comfortable with at the time, and being interested in mindfulness within the classroom and cultivating a lifestyle of balance, arguing the need to unplug felt most natural. “Let’s do this!!”…. “Oh, wait…we’re too late!” But guess what! I think I learned more than I ever could by arguing the opposite side of my initial beliefs. To be honest, I’m not completely convinced anymore that we need to unplug. I believe we can remain plugged in and make smart choices about when and how we use technology. Let me tell you why…
Although the above video makes a powerful statement.I don’t think this issue, like nearly every debate is so black and white. If you heavily overuse social media and don’t have any balance in your life you may be able to relate to this video – although he is very convincing, I would like to reflect on the flip side! Tech is not all bad, all of the time! Why do we have to rush to extremes. Technology can’t be that bad if ultimately each time you escape to detox for a day, a week, a month… you always return to adapting to the world of tech. Technology is naturally part of how we manage our day to day lives, communicate with others and overall how our world works! It just is.
However, after researching, discussing, questioning and re-reading again I began to feel completely disconnecting was unnecessary. When I decided to unplug for an entire day, the ultimate test of what side of the debate I really was on, it felt unnatural. It’s not unusual for me to put my phone down for hours on end, but I noticed during the times I consciously isolated myself from tech, it was difficult when I wanted to ask a question, make plans or take a picture to remember a moment. This isn’t how I would naturally live my day to day life so why am I trying to create a life that isn’t authentic to how I regularly live. I lead a happy, healthy lifestyle without having to disconnect from everything because I’m in control of how much time I spend on my phone and ultimately whether I even need to have it out. It wasn’t realistic for me. In fact, the idea of unplugging completely made me feel more stressed than actually staying connected while spending my time with tech more mindfully. Can I go on a hike without my phone. Of course. In a world that revolves around tech it’s great to escape it for a short while, but to completely unplug for long periods of time was only making it more difficult to connect with others who purely rely on tech.
If everyone around me wasn’t using technology, sure it would be easy! It would be just like it was when we were younger – ah the nostalgia. But cutting myself off from tech made me feel disconnected from friends and family when they continued to rely on communicating with tech. I only see my parents a handful of times each year – disconnecting from tech would completely change the relationship I have with them and many of my other friends and family members. Some argued during last night’s debate that cultivating relationships purely online isn’t authentic or “real” communication. But considering the alternative – no technology – I would choose to continue building relationships online with close friends who move away for a new job. Having a conversation with my niece over Facetime is much better then the alternative snail mail that 2 year olds wouldn’t understand anyway. I know people who completely build an entire relationship through tech, after only meeting briefly while traveling etc. Many people meet the love of their life online. Who are we say relationships formed online are not authentic. Sure, communicating with strangers online is extremely impersonal, and not all communication is going to create meaningful relationships. There are different ways of communicating online and offline for different purposes. However, tech does allow me to strengthen relationships with friends and family despite long distances between us.
Why do I need to completely disconnect when I could use self-control and make the choice to focus my time on other activities. For me, unplugging or disconnecting feels unnatural and unrealistic. A lot of people disconnect from social media accounts only to post the status “I’m back – what did I miss?” after a few short days. Our physical lives and digital lives are intertwined. Taking a break from being connected to others seems more unbalanced to me than learning to live with technology by creating positive habits. Balance is just that- balance. It doesn’t refer to an “all or nothing” approach. I don’t think we need to choose whether to connect or disconnect but rather stay connected without constantly being glued to your phone. I’m capable of going for a walk or out to coffee with friends without checking my phone. I can create a balanced lifestyle while remaining plugged in. I believe it is important to unplug in the sense that our phones shouldn’t control meaningful moments in our lives. I don’t believe in having face to face conversations with others while on my phone (It’s called manners people!), and I can enjoy a beautiful meal without feeling the need to take a picture of it and post it to social media at the dinner table. I’m not saying we should be plugged in at all times, but we should be able to remain plugged in and adopt healthy actions. How we shape our lives can affect how we use technology.
Technology – the very thing that creates stress and anxiety with over use, can also help us to create balance in our lives. Some of the ways I choose to unwind involve technology. Although I don’t need to constantly be with technology, there are certainly benefits to using it and after reading more on the topic I realized just how much I use technology to help unwind. First of all, tracking my run using the Fitbit or Runkeeper apps keeps me as motivated as the music I play to keep my pace. Music is big for me and using a yoga playlist during my practice on the mat helps switch things up or just relax after a busy day. There are also apps for guided meditations that also help people relax in positive ways. Why can’t I unwind while being still accessible to the digital world. After all, isn’t that what balance is all about?
Some may argue that we are losing touch with one another because of the amount of time spent using technology. However, the article In Defense of Tech: Why We Don’t Need to Unplug argues that tech brings us closer together and lets us stay connected to one another more than ever before. It states the real culprit is the american lifestyle with only 57% of people using up their vacation time and the workaholic lifestyle. It’s not technology itself that causes stress, but the ways in which we interact with it – especially for long periods of time. We need to learn to make decisions throughout or day that create balance, and learn when our bodies alert us to take a break from tech.
Tim O’Reilly encourages us to see the power of technology and questions “How can we use the capabilities of our devices to build human experiences?” Like most things, technology can also be viewed in a positive or negative light. But instead of focusing on the addictive, unhealthy and negative aspects of tech, we could choose to focus on the ways technology enriches our lives. Sure, some people are addicted to their phones, but not everyone displays these addictive behaviors. It is possible to adopt a balanced approach while making the most of how you integrate technology into your daily routines.
Shelly Turkle argues that we have “second self” online. However, I’m more drawn to the idea of digital dualism which argues that our physical and digital realities are one in the same. Our lives online are so meshed with our personal lives that a separate is difficult to achieve and unnatural. Who we are online is an extension of our lives offline.
I found an interesting Huffington Post article, “Closer Together or Farther Apart” that begins with grandparents feeling disappointed in their grandchildren for being on their phones and “not communicating”, when actuality they are connected and communicating exactly the way digital natives do. This generation grew up with the internet and it’s not going away anytime soon. This article mentions that “digital immigrants” or baby boomers who had to adjust to technology see things differently. This reminds me of the “tech ruins childhood” argument because we often judge the generation after us as being “less in touch” or “too
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dependent on technology” because their childhood may look different than ours. Different is not a bad thing, however seeing children communicating primarily through tech when we grew up mailing letters and having to answer our phones with even knowing who was calling, makes it easy to quickly form an opinion that the “old way was the best way”. If you didn’t grow up with this lifestyle, you may be more apt to believe this new way of communicating is driving people further apart. For digital natives, this is just how the world communicates! Here is another additional read that gives some pretty solid examples of how technology is bringing generations closer together.
Why Everyone Should Unplug suggests that “even brief activities such as taking a short walk (sans phone, of course), spending time in nature, or daydreaming can help the brain reboot. But without free time (i.e. totally unstructured and without Facebook, idle web surfing, or TV), it’s impossible to fully learn new skills and keep the brain at its cognitive best” I completely agree that time away from tech is extremely important for our health and well-being, but argue that we should be cultivating balanced practices every day. It shouldn’t have to be all or nothing! We should be able to experience the best of both worlds without completely abandoning such an integral part of our every day lives. Unplugging for an afternoon or a day or two? Sure thing! But to feel the need to purposely remove myself from all tech for weeks at a time could be an indicator that I need to look at how much time I’m spending on technology in the first place.
It’s all about balance! Do you regularly disconnect? Do you think it’s possible to create balance while co-existing with technology?