Let’s all take a moment to pretend to be surprised that I’m in favour of unplugging. We live our lives on screens and important, meaningful, personal connections seem to be falling by the wayside. I am, however, more ambivalent about this than you might expect.
When I lived in the UK, I found the big city to be shockingly isolating. It was hard to make new friends, and my roommates weren’t the best candidates (long story, but it involves a 3 hour argument about milk), so it was hard to form new connections. Tech did, however, serve to strengthen those long-standing connections that I had at home. Interestingly, my closest friend now wasn’t much more than an acquaintance when I moved. He, however, had a very boring job, and was on Facebook a lot. Because of the time delay, he was typically one of my only contacts online by the time that I got home from work. We would chat each day, and by the time I got home, we had become close friends. Katia echoed a similar sentiment, although I assured her that we’re totally BFF’s.
At the same time, though, tech can be shockingly isolating. Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance is deeply concerning, and shockingly accurate. He writes about how, when they were conducting their study, the focus group of people over 50 were visiting, chatting, and getting to know each other in the waiting room, while the 20-30 age group sat in silence, tapping away at their phones. Tech is definitely an excellent way for introverts to establish a quiet space in a busy room, but it is such an effective way of avoiding meeting new people, it has an isolating effect. The Forbes article echoed this as well, talking about how our socially connected lives prevent real intimacy. Instead, we resort to things like vaguebooking in an effort to get personal connections.
It’s important here to point out that, for once, I’m not advocating tech abstinence. In the class debate, I explained my class’s tech time challenge, to the shock and horror of the peanut gallery. Yes, I am a heartless monster, but there’s a greater purpose to the activity. I was seeking to make my students understand just how big a part of their lives tech is. Interestingly, the feedback from the students is pretty consistent, that they start out hating it, but tend to wind up enjoying it. They spend more time outside, they play more board games, or just hang out with their family. They all go back to using their tech, and that’s fine, the point wasn’t to make them quit, the point was to make them aware. I put myself through the same tech-free living nightmare (with a few exceptions for work tasks which can’t be done without a computer), and I go through the same process. I re-discover hobbies. Plus, during that month, my house is spotless.
We don’t need to unplug completely , that’s swinging the pendulum too far the other way, but right now kids are over-plugged. Their tech devices are simply too compelling, and they pull them away from the real world. Kids, and people in general, are losing out on a fundamental human experience, which I firmly believe is an important part of being a complete person: being bored. There are few things in the world more creative than a bored kid, and when kids are constantly being entertained, they lose out on that. When I was a kid, my punishments were often a loss of tech, including tv and nintendo (the horror). During this time I grew a weird affinity for monotonous tasks. To this day, I still love making domino tracks. I would play with my spirograph for hours. I’d build puzzles. All of these tasks were quite mundane, but I found great peacefulness in them, and I found them because there was nothing else to do. I was bored, so my mind found things to occupy it. We need to be able to cope with boredom.
All through high school and university, I worked as a lifeguard, and one of the primary tasks was to monitor the pool. Man, oh man that job was boring. For hours at a time, staring at the pool, trying to stay sharp and focused while doing a very, very boring task. The rate of lifeguards who left the job very quickly was extremely high, and I take that as an indication that a lot of people simply aren’t able to handle the monotony. A lot of real life is pretty dull, and we need to embrace that! Be bored! Boredom is the soil out of which creativity grows.
Thanks to everyone for a great class, and great discussions. I wasn’t bored! Maybe this summer I’ll be bored. As soon as I’m done this level on Candy Crush.