A Week Off the Grid
No social media, no GroupMe, no Spotify, and no Netflix for seven days. Find out what it's like to unplug.
I decided to take on this challenge when I added up the number of hours I spend in front of a screen on a normal day. Half an hour on my laptop in the morning, four hours at work, three hours during class, two hours watching TV and doing homework at night. And that’s before I even consider the number of times I check my phone. You get the idea. I’m spending at least half of my life in front of a screen. And most of the other half is spent sleeping!
I can easily justify most of the time I spend with technology. When I think about it, it seems like the time I spend arbitrarily checking social media is marginal. Most of the time I’m actually doing something — checking and responding to e-mails, working on homework, or watching a show on Netflix. I won’t go into whether or not watching Netflix counts as “actually doing something.”
I think it’s safe to say that our culture is becoming increasingly dependent on technology, which can be a little frightening. Have you ever seen the show Black Mirror? Honestly. Terrifying.
For this challenge, I can use my phone to call and text my parents and boyfriend — people I cannot be out of touch with for one week. I am also using the software required for my job: InDesign, Teamwork, Trello and Slack. Otherwise, I am completely off the grid.
I took a normal week of classes, work, meetings, plans with friends, etc. and eliminated technology from the picture. And, as much as it embarrasses me to admit, it was a little bit of a shock. It was tough. But it was well worth the experience. It painted a painfully clear picture of the drawbacks and benefits of technology’s dominant place in my everyday life.
Picked up my phone at least 417 times to check Instagram today, only to be reminded that I have given up that luxury. I’m also receiving no Pocket Points for this week. Huge bummer.
I saw my roommate and asked her to tell our other roommates that I would be away from our GroupMe for the week. She whipped out her phone and sent a message on my behalf. I am feeling the weight of my dependence. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.
In a weak moment, I texted my mom six times in a row simply because I had not received a notification all morning. This is way harder than I thought.
The FOMO is setting in. One of my friends called me yesterday afternoon to try to make plans. We have been playing phone tag for over 24 hours. My voicemail inbox has never seen this much action.
First positive note about this experience: my mind is a much quieter place. I’ve thought about turning on the TV a few times, but have picked up a book instead. I even went for a walk this morning.
Still playing phone tag with my friend. We’ve made voicemail plans to meet up this weekend. My first successful tech-free social experience! Things are looking up.
The temptation to open Spotify is almost unbearable. I know for a fact that my Discover Weekly playlist is wondering where I’ve gone. I’ve been listening to the radio in my car as a substitute. The top hits station should really stop taking requests.
I have time to drink coffee slowly and read in the morning. As a result, I have felt content, peaceful and zen all day long.
I also just charged my phone for the first time all week. My battery does not know how to react.
What is technology? I think I’m a new person. I left my phone at home today and did not even notice until I got home and found it on the kitchen table.
The longer I am without technology, the less I feel its absence. I went for a hike yesterday and, for the first time in years, not a single living soul could get in contact with me. At first that kind of solitude made me nervous since it is completely foreign to most of my generation. It’s both exciting and embarrassing to be so utterly shocked by the level of social “quiet” I’ve experienced this week. I don’t mind it.
With all the time I didn’t spend watching Netflix this week, I’ve made a “happy medium” plan to live by after this challenge. What’s the tech-exposure equivalent of anaphylactic shock? I don’t know, but I’d like to avoid it.
There are definitely times in our culture when technology is arguably a “necessity.” When my teacher e-mails me, I need to be able to respond promptly. I am a graphic design major. I need to use computer software to fabricate designs. There are some occasions when using technology is unavoidable — and very helpful!
There are other times when I turn to technology but don’t need it. This week I walked to class without looking at my phone. I wondered why I didn’t feel like I was being frantically assaulted with an onslaught of new information when my teacher started class every day. I realized that, without my phone, I had some unoccupied time to spend mentally preparing for the day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not walking to class thinking, “Okay, what’s my professor going to teach today? Well, if last class was about mitosis then today will be…” No. I’m not that prepared. I’m talking about the very low-key cerebral process of tying up all the loose ends of the class I just walked out of or the conversation I just had in the parking lot. I’m talking about the subconscious “Okay, I’m going to this class now.” It doesn’t take much.
Apparently, I’ve also become progressively introspective over the course of the week.
I’m in the home stretch! I can do this!
I didn’t realize how often I use technology for background noise until this week. I’ve found myself feeling slightly uncomfortable doing things like getting ready in the morning and making lunch in complete silence. I have a habit of listening to Spotify while I get ready to go somewhere, especially when I’m getting ready for the day. I also have a habit of turning on Netflix while I make lunch, or dinner, or any meal for that matter. I’d like to become more comfortable with this kind of quiet.
First Day Back on the Grid
I missed some important things. A friend of mine accepted her dream job four days ago and I just saw her message on GroupMe. Two of my friends from high school got engaged. Those are things I wish I could have celebrated in the moment. For that reason, I would not recommend going entirely off the grid. But I still think that setting aside time without any form of technology is important.
I’ve decided to create technology “dark hours” for myself. There are parts of the day where I will feel better if I spend them without technology. Before I get to campus, during mealtimes, and for an hour after I get home are the times that work for me. I’m sure the most beneficial hours would vary from person to person. Either way, I 10/10 would recommend trying this.
Going off the grid — even just for a week — was really a challenge. There’s a lot to be said for an awareness of the way your environment affects you, and this experience has given me that.
Take this challenge yourself! See how going tech-free impacts you and share your experience in the comments below.
Be well, Auburn.
Photography: Cat S.