Time to unplug

Have you ever thought about what school was like for your grandparents? There was no Internet. There were no computers, no smart boards or projectors. If you wanted to write, it was with pencils or chalk. Books and journals were actually printed on paper, and you had to know what the Dewey Decimal System was if you wanted to find any of them.

Modern technology has come so far in the last few decades, and it can be really helpful for learning. Greensboro College has adapted a universal design for learning, and one feature of that program focuses on how to use technology to enhance students’ education. This can be very beneficial—especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic, but our fascination with all things tech could be reaching unhealthy levels.

Between Gmail, Moodle, Zoom, Empower and Google, we are now being required to spend an unprecedented amount of time staring at a screen. For that matter, much of the world has started to work from home, spending much of their days staring at a screen. That is just the way things are right now. It is a fact of life that technology dominates the work and education- al sectors which only makes our lives more stressful and faster-moving because there is no way to separate home and work time. It all runs together.

We also find most of our entertainment on a screen. How many of you have at least one paid streaming service like Netflix, Hulu or Disney+? I am betting that quite a few of you have all three (or have access to all three through a friend). Then there is TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook … the list goes on and on. Our days are filled with the latest updates, stories and streaks. While this can be fun, there is also the side of social media that always does more harm than good. The often toxic atmosphere that we encounter regularly is a place where self-esteem is trashed.

Regardless of your opinion of social media, the fact remains that between school and entertainment, a healthy majority of us spend a good part of our day watching a computer or cellphone screen, and sometimes it is just too much. Godfrey Reggio said, “It’s not that we use technology, we live technology.” When you go to bed and your eyes just feel dry and worn out, you know you have had too much screen time, and we need to address that fact.

I spent a couple of sum- mers as a camp counselor and, as part of that job, I did not have access to my phone from Sunday afternoon until Thursday night. Yes, you heard that right. I did not have my phone for over four days, and it was great. You would be surprised how relaxing it was. It was great not feeling like I had to look for a text every five minutes or see what this or that person’s latest post was. Not to mention, when you are not looking at your phone, you can see everything and everyone else around you. You never know what you are missing when you are constantly looking down at a screen.

Well, it just so happens that March 5 is the National Day of Unplugging, and maybe that is a place to start. Maybe you can go a whole day without looking at your phone, but that is probably not very realistic, especially since there are classes that day.

However, it is definitely time that we become more intentional about finding time to go off of the grid. Maybe you can decide to read a book, rather than watching whatever latest cat videos are trending. Maybe you can take a walk and look at the city or take a hike and look at nature. It does not matter how you do it, but we should be more conscious about how much screen time we have each and every day. Let us be honest, a lot of you probably could not make four hours without your phone, much less four days.

The truth is, you really do not need a whole day to unplug—although I do recommend trying it—you really only need a little part of every day. I once had a friend actually schedule time in his day to just sit there and do nothing: no technology, no phone, no anything. The point was to be still, listen and reflect. It was a way to get away from the world for just a few minutes a day, and listen to yourself and God.

We should all give this a try. Start with a few minutes. Put your phone on silent, and go into another room. Then, just breathe. Society tells us that we constantly need stimulation for our brains, but that is just not true. Let your imagination wander, talk to God, think about your future. I know, I am starting to sound philosophical. The point is that technology is only as good as you make it, and there can be too much of a good thing. Sometimes you just need some distance and perspective.

So, maybe when you just sit and think on March 5, or whatever day you choose, you can think about what it was like for your grandparents to go to school. Who knows, maybe you will get the urge to ask them. I am sure they would love to tell you.

by Blake Hawkins