A Detox for the Digital Age

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    The challenge came from our reporting professor.

    Jean Marie Brown showed our class an article from The New York Times“The 7-Day Digital Diet,” and suggested one of us give up technology and write about it.

    Sierra Albertson, a junior in my class, was the first to volunteer. She wanted to see how much she relied on technology on a day-to-day basis.

    Sierra gave up her cell phone, digital music, tablet, iPod, television and computer. She could use her laptop for academics and her live blog.

    I argued that we needed a male perspective, too, so I decided that I wanted to go without everything. No phone, no iPod, no tablet and no computer (with the exception of internship video editing). I wouldn’t even listen to the radio.

    I have a roommate who deleted all social media, and this was an opportunity to compete with him over who could better withstand social media isolation.

    Sierra and I called people closest to us to let them know what we were doing for the next seven days. Our friends thought we were crazy. So did our families.

    I updated social media letting people know that I was going off the grid, but Sierra just disappeared.

    Even without phones, word traveled fast and people became interested in our endeavor. By the time Sierra and I started, nearly all of our friends and classmates in the journalism department heard of what we were attempting.

    We knew the next seven days would be difficult, even with the support of the department and reassurance of our eventual reunion with technology.

    We both use our phones as alarms in the morning, so we had to start using an alarm clock. We also use our phones to check the time, so wearing wristwatches became our new norm. 

    Realizing how much we relied on our devices prepared us for some of the challenges ahead.

     

    The first day

    We needed to make several adjustments living in our new technology-free world.

    Sierra thought it was fun. I was bored.

    It felt like when my parents used to ground me. Only instead of doing something wrong, I volunteered to do this.

    The first change was a wake-up call. Mornings were a lot different for me. My alarm clock woke me up much more quickly than my phone alarm ever did. During the first few days, I still had the urge to check my phone for overnight notifications.

    Meanwhile, Sierra locked herself out of her dorm on her first day. She lives on campus and has to use her ID to swipe into the building. Locking herself out wasn’t unusual, but up until now, it wasn’t a problem because she would just text a friend to come to her rescue.

    Without a phone, she waited 20 minutes for someone to come by.

    We had our schedules planned for the first day and were busy enough to keep ourselves relatively entertained.

     

    The second day was harder.

    Outside of regular events like school and extracurricular activities, planning our schedules had become a struggle. Forget texting friends about meetings or cancellations.

    Instead, we had to be on time.

    Sierra lost track of time and was late to lunch with a friend. Thinking Sierra had forgotten about the lunch date, her friend was moments away from leaving when Sierra arrived.

    Not only did we have to reevaluate how we communicated, but others also had to find new ways to reach us.

    I had to find a ride to my bowling class, which proved difficult. Normally I would text my friends to see who could drive. I had no way of contacting my friends, so I had to find a car to drive or take the bus. Of course, without technology it was hard to find the bus schedule.

     

    Fortunately, the next few days became routine.

    In lieu of texting, Sierra wrote messages on sticky notes for her friends and left them on their doors. Her friends also learned how to communicate without technology when needing to reach her, telling her their schedule for the day and planning out when they would hang out the night before.

    I adjusted to the new alarm clock (as scared as I was to wake up to the screech). Friends began to communicate with me via my secretary, aka my roommate. Social interactions became easier as the week went on.

    By the end of the week, we were both well adjusted to the detox. However, learning to live without a dependence on technology didn’t break the bond we have to our phones. We were both very anxious to get them back.

     

    The last day presented unique challenges and excitement.

    At 11:55 p.m. on the final night, Sierra took a break from studying and went to the room of her friend who agreed to store her devices. She was digital again when the clock finally struck midnight—and not a second earlier.

    I created a countdown to the reunion on my refrigerator whiteboard. I updated the time every half hour, until midnight. I couldn’t wait to see how much I had missed.

    Reintegrating ourselves back into the digital world was easy. Maybe too easy. It was our technological instinct that allowed an easy transition back into digital reality.

     

    What exactly did we accomplish by this questionably insane venture without our technology?

    We both found our study habits had improved. Social media is a huge distraction.

    Phone responsibility became a priority, especially while driving. During the week without technology, I noticed how many people are distracted behind the wheel. It’s so easy to pick up the phone and not focus on the road ahead.

    We were even a bit more aware of our surroundings, which allowed more appreciation for the present. Walking around campus I noticed how many students text while walking to class. I almost ran into a few people who were too invested in their phones to notice me in their path.

     

    Interactions with people became more intentional. When we needed to talk to someone, everything that needed to be discussed, both in the present and in making future plans, required immediate action. We couldn’t leave halfway through a conversation with an, “I’ll text you later…”

    The detox prompted some changes in how we use technology.

    I no longer check technology when I’m in social settings. It sounds cliché, but social media truly can wait

    The seven-day “Digital Detox” we invested in was radical. Going without communication and entertainment is frustrating in the fast-paced environment of a college student’s life. It was equally challenging for us, as it was our friends and colleagues, to interact with one another.

    But, we’ve both acquired a new perspective from the experience—one that anyone can participate in. It doesn’t have to be seven days. Even a small amount of time away from technology can bring new insight.

    We challenge you to put the phone away. Turn off your social media and learn to cope without relying on your devices. You might discover something about yourself otherwise impossible to search for on Google.

    Think you can’t do it? We lived to tell the tale.