Wishful Unplugging

This week’s topic of attention and multi-tasking fuels a lot of questions and concerns I have about using the technology. Reading over the article, “The Myth of the Disconnect Life,” I found myself thinking, “wow, that is really wishful thinking and doesn’t really work for current expectations.” I disagree with William Powers’s Hamlet’s Blackberry and the call for the “Digital Sabbath.” Becoming disconnect from our technological lives is not only unrealistic, it’s irresponsible at times.

Now, let’s face it wasting six hours on youtube or spending an afternoon with a friend only to message another one friend for the majority of the day is not what I’m talking about. There are certain social activities online and leisurely uses of technology that it is beneficial to disconnect from, but let’s face it, we really can’t have a true 24-hour “digital sabbath,” especially as a graduate student. I can’t take 24-hours off from technology or from work without serious consequences. I think there are better ways to connect with individuals face to face without resorting to this preposterous “Digital Sabbath.”

Technology is part of our culture and it is embedded into the expectations of the responsibilities we take on. 97% of what I do for graduate school has to be done on technology from blogging to downloading research articles to submitting assignments. (The other 3% is riding the bus.) Outside of school, if I didn’t check in with my family at least once through a simple text in a 24-hour period, my face would be on a milk carton with Lifetime trying to buy the rights to the story about the commotion my mother caused with local law enforcement and Virginia Tech. (Alright, may be not that extreme, but I would definitely get an ear full next time I spoke with her on the phone, which actually prompt me to take a “Digital Sabbath.”)

My point is that a “Digital Sabbath” is too extreme for most individuals to follow. We simply can’t turn off our email accounts for 24-hours or stop working on a computer. This is something that only needs to be done if you have a problem with overusing technology. I know there are many times I miss out on something because I’m too busy working and I do wish I could take more time off the Internet and technology, but the cost is too much. Education is extraordinarily based on the Internet. We use it for everything and sometimes we don’t use all the resources we once did. (The classic example of a student emailing a question that is covered in the syllabus and frustration just having that email in your inbox.)

However, the convenience of technology and the Internet has come at the expense of being able to unplug. There is an expectation of always being accessible especially in areas of education. Personally, I would love to be able to unplug and not worry about answering my email for a weekend, but realistic, that is never going to happen. We have to understand there are certain areas of technology and the Internet we cannot disconnect from. Social media, yes; education/work, no. Teachers are expected to answer emails within 24 hours and students are expected to adapt to each different policy each instructor instates. It requires a balance between flexibility and structure to maintain the expectations of technology-driven world.

8 thoughts on “Wishful Unplugging

  1. I completely agree with you here that a 24-hour Digital Sabbath is unrealistic. I discussed this a lot in my blog post, based off of an assignment I had during my freshman year of undergrad to read Hamlet’s Blackberry and then complete an Internet Sabbath, a bit less drastic than a Digital Sabbath. Our society today revolves around technology, for better or worse. This is a topic we debate in a lot of our graduate classes in communication, and we discuss the power of new technologies quite a bit in our social media research class. I do agree that some technology-driven tasks might be good to disconnect from at times, but trying to completely disconnect would cause more chaos than good.

  2. I find it fun to see how we are connected but also how we choose to feel connected.

    For example, my father always talks about Facebook as an interesting concept and I share this opinion with him. I have been able to stay in touch with high school friends as much as a want to. For him it is more of re-discovering people he no longer knows. This is just one example about how a social life revolves around a technology.

    I personally thank google video for keeping long-distance relationship intact. Being able to see a person without being with them is fantastic.

    What I mean from this is the chaos that falling off the grid would give to others. Even if you could do it and not need to be reached for work or play, being connected gives you more opportunities. Even if you have to deal with the occasional group text that “blows up” your phone.

  3. I loved this post! I completely agree with so many of your statements: I also I found myself thinking how unrealistic this would be for current expectations, and for the culture (because now we can quickly update parents with a text instead of expecting a one-(pay)phone-call-a-week schedule). Dooming in a way, yes. We are a little stuck in this technological inundation. But so convenient for staying in touch and doing work from home? Yes! I guess it’s really the lens in which we view the effects of technology.

  4. As a graduate student, while I know I could get away with being away from technology for 24 hours or more, I’m not sure I want to. While my advisor would never reprimand me or any student for taking 24 hours off from email during the weekend, I don’t necessarily want to be away for that long. I really love my research and being fully immersed in it is pretty awesome, though I certainly take breaks. If my advisor is going to be reading a draft of my paper over the weekend and has a quick question that she emails me about, I want to be able to answer her ASAP so that she can help me make progress. If another student has a question in the lab about a procedure that they can’t move forward with until they get an answer, I’d like to be able to help them with that too. I think putting work on the shelf for a day or two over the weekend to relax is totally ok, but if you are working with other people, it’s probably not realistic or considerate or maybe even acceptable to disconnect yourself from them.

  5. “let’s face it, we really can’t have a true 24-hour ‘digital sabbath,’ especially as a graduate student. I can’t take 24-hours off from technology or from work without serious consequences.”
    Why not?
    If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year, it’s that I am not that important. There’s a clause in my syllabus that I don’t check email after 7 p.m. or on weekends unless it’s an emergency. My phone goes off around 11 p.m. every.single.night.
    There has to be “me time.” No one’s going to give it to me, so I have to take it. The best advice I ever got from a school professional was this – “take 24 hours off a week. Do nothing related to school. Your work and your life will be better for it.”
    I took this to heart in the spring of my first year and it’s true. I have yet to miss a deadline or get kicked off a committee because I didn’t answer an email within 24 hours. A Digital Sabbath is a choice, maybe a hard one but still a choice. To say that it’s impossible is what I see as impossible.

  6. I feel the same way when it comes to disconnecting from the internet. I have gotten so dependent to my smartphone that if for some reason I leave it at home I feel like something especially important is going to happen, someone is going to try to contact me, and I’m not going to be able to pick it up instantly. It is just amazing how been connected and reachable has become so important to a daily life, even if when you return to the phone you forgot, no one had called. Very good post!

  7. Fabulous post! I share much of the same sentiments. With wifi easily accessible on any campus or public/private establishment and cell phones, computers, digital hand-held devices, iPads, iPods, digital notebooks, and etc. at our finger tips it has become second nature to consistently check social media sites, emails, text messages, course management systems, and etc. in which I find myself immersed in much of the day and find it difficult to unplug at times. I find technology so ingrained in me and the things I interact with that you become more automated, because it’s so easily accessible. I don’t think its technology that impedes or intrudes on daily lives or learning, but perhaps more or less the end-user and the contexts its being used. For example, you’ll have a face-to-face conversation with someone and they might find it difficult to converse without being distracted by an electronic device or social media. So, I concur, its wishful unplugging, but in this day and age, its slightly unrealistic. Great post & thank you for sharing!

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