Rachel del Valle | Pull the plug
Duly Noted | Despite my best efforts over break, I’ve found that it’s hard to abandon technology — even for a short time
October 14, 2013, 7:28 pm · Updated October 14, 2013, 9:38 pm·
Rachel del Valle
This long weekend, I tried to relax. I really did. I kept my phone out of sight most of the time, avoided emails, read a few short stories here and there. I resisted the urge to lift up the glossy white lid of my laptop and flip through my usual websites. I sent only one Snapchat, a few texts and made no calls.
It worked, mostly. Until I got back to everything I’d been avoiding and realized how much had piled up in my half-hearted absence. I’m not a very busy person most of the time, but, like most people, I like to pretend that I am.
I didn’t tell anyone I was planning on “unplugging” or anything like that. That seemed like too much of a commitment — a statement. Declaring a tech-free, or in my case, tech-light weekend has a distinctly self-aggrandizing feel to it.
It seems strange that someone has to declare that they’re going to pull a Walden. Doesn’t that defeat the point?
Those from older generations, like say, my grandmothers, have tech-free weekends and, nay, weeks all the time. They don’t expect applause because they can hold a conversation without checking their phone.
Maybe I’m just being selfish by not replying to others, though at least most of the people I’m often in contact with are accustomed my digital sluggishness.
Despite this, I’m about as tethered to “technology” as the average college student.
I’m currently writing this column on my iPhone, on a train. I haven’t looked up from the little glowing screen since I got into my seat 15 minutes ago. I sleep with my phone next to me, as its alarm wakes me up in the morning. I feel a quiet thrill when I check my phone after a three-hour class and find the screen dotted with messages.
Living in the present is tough when most of us carry around our past and future obligations in our pockets. And I don’t mean that as a metaphor. Cell phones are a shrunken, noisy reminder of all the things you’ve done and have to do.
Lately, I’ve come to think that one of the most valuable things you can give someone is your undivided attention. No phones, laptops, pending appointments or homework. With that many qualifications, I guess undivided attention seems a little out of reach.
I was in a yoga class the other day and the instructor snapped at a girl who checked her phone just before the end of class Shavasana, or deep relaxation. This is the best part of the hour because you just get to lie there in the dark, muscles buzzing from the exercise. The fact that you would want to jeopardize that just to see if you have any texts blows my mind.
“We usually ask that you don’t use your phone during our time together,” the instructor said. The girl seemed taken aback by the request, and I was too, but in a different way.
The way the instructor used that phrase “our time together” stuck with me. We have “time together” with a lot of people throughout a given day, but how much of it is really shared?
More often than I’d like to admit, I find myself presenting someone with a flimsy, superficial version of myself that’s half-listening and half-thinking about other things.
I’m always struck by how much less considerate I can be when I’m really distracted. I become snappish, irritable, dismissive. I feel all this happening, but that doesn’t always mean I’m able to focus and stop it.
I guess the easiest way to do that is to put away your phone, but the fact remains that you can be distracted even without an internet connection — your phone just puts all those distractions in one place. I can’t help but feel like the whole slave to technology trope is just an excuse people use to distract themselves from their own boredom.
I only look at my phone, refresh pages, check email, Facebook or Instagram when I have nothing better to do. Well, when I have nothing better to do and when I have to check the time — incidentally, I’m in the market for a wristwatch.
Think about the last time you were truly engrossed in the present moment. Senses stimulated, head clear, buoyant. Got it? Good. In that moment, did you feel the need to check your cell phone? Probably not.
Rachel del Valle is a College senior from Newark, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” appears every Tuesday.