I have a love/hate relationship with technology.
I love it, because it keeps me connected to the world, current events, and my social circles. It allows me to do things like send this blog post out into the inter-webs.
I hate it, because when I sat down to write this post, I didn’t just start writing. First, I watched about 5 minutes of Snapchat stories that I’d somehow missed over the last 24 hours. Then I checked Instagram. Then I wrote the first two sentences of this post. Then I replied to some Snapchats my cousin sent me. Then I started writing.
This past Friday night, my friend Nikki and I went to see a play called Dead Man’s Cellphone at Millersville University, where I go to school. (For 3 more short weeks!!!!)
Dead Man’s Cellphone is a… strange play. Let’s just say I was glad I’d asked another English major to go with me because some of my friends may have wanted to leave at the intermission. (If you want to go see it for yourself, it’s playing until the 24th. You can find tickets here.)
It starts out with Jean, the protagonist of the play, sitting in a cafe. A man is sitting at a table a few feet away. They’re the only customers. The café seems to be employee-free, too. Soon, the man’s cellphone starts ringing. And keeps ringing.
Then, when it finally stops ringing, it rings again.
Jean starts to get (understandably) annoyed, and after questioning him and receiving no response or acknowledgement, she goes over and picks up the phone, answering it. She takes a message for the man, and it’s not until she puts the phone back down that she realizes… the man is dead. Jean calls 911 on his phone, and waits with him until the ambulance arrives.
This is when things start to get a little absurd. Instead of leaving the phone with the man, Jean takes it with her. And she keeps answering the dead man’s cellphone. Throughout the play, she gets mixed up with all the important people in the dead man’s life. She is convinced he’s good, and she makes it her mission to fix the mess he left behind. She makes peace with his mistress, his wife, his mother, his brother… She even becomes mixed up in the business he ran, which happened to be trafficking human organs.
What really stood out to me about the play, and about Jean, the main character, is how the cellphone takes over her life. At the start of the play, she doesn’t own a cellphone, but by the end, her whole life has been changed because she picked up the dead man’s cellphone.
At one point Jean says,
“You know I never had a cellphone? I didn’t want to always be there. You know, it’s like, if your phone is on, you’re supposed to be there. Sometimes I like to disappear. When everyone’s phone is on, no one’s really there. We’re all disappearing the more we’re there.”
I think that’s my biggest issue with cellphones, too, Jean. Whenever it’s near you, you’re expected to be there. You’re expected to reply to emails, to answer when it rings, to check your Facebook notifications, to Snapchat back if you open your friend’s Snap.
But when I think about it, who is telling me I have to do that besides myself? Most of my friends won’t think I’m ignoring them if I don’t reply to the text they send me a few minutes before midnight. Am I still awake? Probably. But office hours are closed.
At times, having a cellphone, and more specifically a smart phone, makes me less present. More preoccupied. I’m with people, but I forget to really be there because I’m thinking about the photo I’m going to post on Instagram later. Rather than enjoying the moment, I think about sharing the most aesthetic version of the moment with the world.
Even though I try not to look at my phone when I’m eating dinner with my family or having coffee with a friend, sometimes I fail.
My recent social media drug of choice has been Snapchat, which is ironic because I put off downloading it for a long time, thinking I would never use it.
I love the messaging features of Snapchat. The app helps me to stay more connected with friends I don’t see often and relatives who live on the other side of the country. I also like that I can be goofy and lame on Snapchat in ways I don’t feel comfortable being on Facebook or Instagram. Not only do the snaps disappear after 24 hours, but fewer people see my snaps than any of my other social media posts. I also love sharing weird and random parts of my day with my friends and in turn, I like to see little snippets of their days. But there’s a time to snap, and a time to just live, and that’s honestly a line I’m still learning not to cross.
I used to read in bed.
Now, I get into bed with a book, but if I don’t watch myself, I look at social media or even read some news article online until I fall asleep, the book lying forgotten at my side.
Another issue with unplugging? My phone is my alarm clock, calendar, camera… At times it’s even my Bible, my books (thank you, Audible), and my newspaper (thank you Dad’s Wall Street Journal subscription). So much of me is found on my phone that I can’t even turn it off without disrupting my life. It’s hard to feel like disconnecting my phone won’t mean disconnecting myself from the world.
The other night, I knew I was going to be able to sleep in the next morning. So I did something wild. I went to bed early, and I turned my phone OFF. Instead of scrolling through Instagram or even watching a movie on Netflix, I read a book of my choosing for a few hours, totally undisrupted, until I fell asleep. This is something I used to do every single night, and it was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable things I’ve done in a long time. Knowing no one could reach me for a night was peaceful and freeing.
A few years ago I read an article from The Atlantic called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The article looks at the way we Google things rather than thinking about things. We all have hundreds of thousands of facts in our brains, but too often we don’t even try to recall them because Googling them and then forgetting them 5 minutes later is easier. Sometimes I’ll be in a group of people and someone will ask a question that five years ago, we probably could’ve riddled out. Now? It’s straight to Google. Rather than stretching our minds, we tend to go for the easy answer. As much as technology benefits us, it also makes us lazy.
I love technology. I’m not going to be the trite blogger who says technology is evil while clinging to my laptop. I’m just saying, remember to take a break every now and again. Remember to let your brain have some screen-free time. Remember that you don’t owe anyone an instantaneous response. Something I’m going to try over the next week or so is not checking or replying to messages between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. That’s not something that would have been considered so crazy even a few years ago, but I know even that will be a stretch for me.
Most of us have had that experience where you’re out with a friend and they’re more absorbed in their phone than in your conversation.
Maybe that means you’re boring.
Maybe that means they’re rude.
Maybe you are that friend.
Setting boundaries for yourself is important in most areas of life. Technology use is one of those areas, because it can be a distraction from living your real life and because it can suck all your valuable time away. We’re all busy. None of us need that.
If you feel like your proximity to technology is keeping you from being present in areas of your life that are important to you, it’s as simple as hitting the “off” button or deleting that one app you know you open too many times a day.
I want to learn to keep just the good parts of technology without disappearing into my smart phone.
What I’m listening to this week:
Ophelia – The Lumineers
The Lumineers’ whole new album is rad, but “Ophelia” is one of my faves. Have a listen.