The disconnect (2010)
This is a creative essay that reflects on the author's experience of living without technology for 48 hours. The disconnect included no television, cell phone, or computer. Although difficult at first, this essay also touches on how technology has complicated our lives, leaving us busier and more distracted than ever.
Without a cell phone to wake me, I sleep until Tom, my fiancé, urges me out of bed. Instinctively, I pick up my phone but the screen is dark. Ancient by cell phone standards, my phone is missing the 2, 6, and 9 buttons. The missing buttons make it hard to text and I often send people blank messages, partly from my clumsy fingers and partly from the worn buttons. My phone can take grainy photos and although it can access the Internet, I never do. Now, as I stare at this outdated piece of technology, I resist the urge to turn it on. What if someone sent me a text that I must respond to right away? That person is probably expecting a quick reply and now they're mad at me because my phone is off and will be for two days. It would be so easy to just hold down the power button and see if I have any messages. Because of this simple and immediate gratification, I am struggling. I want the information and I want it now because it's possible for me to get it now. I have to place my phone out of sight in order for me to resist the temptation.
Instead of watching TV with our morning coffee, Tom makes pancakes for breakfast and we talk. We never see each other on Friday; I usually work all day and Tom works in the evening. Although I feel disconnected to the outside world, I am more connected to my own world this morning. There is an apartment for rent one floor above ours and it's three times the size of our current one. We talk about living in a bigger space and Tom excitedly measures our belongings. After getting dressed, we head upstairs to see if everything has a place.
The upstairs apartment feels more like a mansion and in my excitement, I reach in my pocket to grab my cell phone. I want to take pictures and send them to my family so they will know exactly what I am doing and thinking about. But I don't have my phone and my family will have to wait for pictures. I know my family isn't actually waiting for my pictures; they are probably at work with more important things in mind. The pictures are really for me and the satisfaction I get from sharing an important piece of information with them. I am the one who will have to wait.
When we are done playing house, Tom and I take a walk. The air is cool but refreshing and although I feel naked going outside without my cell phone, it's nice just being with Tom. We walk down our cobblestone street and make our way over to the Empire State Plaza. The state buildings tower over us as we walk toward Agency Building Four. There is an auto show on the concourse level and we follow the echoing sounds of people, and soon we stumble across the show. Tom and I look at the new models of cars, sitting in some and picking our favorites. We talk about the day when we will be able to afford a car together, a concept so foreign it's hard to even imagine. At around one o'clock, we leave the show. We would have spent any other day watching TV with only sporadic conversations.
Tom leaves for work and Tom's absence leaves me truly alone for the first time in years. I cannot reach the outside world without physically leaving my apartment. Wanting to waste some of the day, I climb into bed and fall asleep. When I wake up, it's dark and the clock in the bedroom says six o'clock. When I walk into the living area, the clock says five o'clock. Tom never set back the bedroom clock for Standard Time and now there is more time for me to feel disconnected.
I think about the possible messages on my Facebook wall. I wonder if anyone has commented on my status. What if I miss something interesting on my news feed? I feel as if I need to know these answers only because it's so easy for me to obtain this information. Facebook will continue to exist whether or not I check my profile, but I feel as if I won't exist if I don't access the Internet. I want to feel connected and this want often feels more like a need. I don't want to acknowledge that people probably aren't commenting on my status and people aren't thinking about me in isolation. Somehow, checking my profile makes me feel cared about, even if I have no new wall posts.
I decide to start cleaning to take my mind off of my lack of information about the outside world. The apartment is small and I am quickly done. I then wash the mound of dishes piled by the sink. Remnants of last night's goulash float in water-filled bowls and I try not to vomit. I hate food chunks.Once the dishes are clean, I design a homework plan for the final month of the semester. Usually, I try to avoid the thought of homework on a Friday but there is nothing else to do. I list each day of the week and the assignments I want to work on are written by the day. If I stick to this plan, my last month should go smoothly. If I stick to this plan.
It's only nine o'clock. Tom doesn't get done with work until after eleven and then he needs to drive the half an hour home. I won't know when he leaves, in fact, I don't even know if he made it to work. I quickly push thoughts of Tom lying on the side of the road after a bad accident out of my head and jump into the shower. Once clean, I lie down on the couch and leisurely read for the first time in a month. I've convinced myself that I don't have time to read anymore, but with no distractions from the phone or computer, I have nothing to do but read. I read in bed until Tom is home around midnight and strain to stay awake as he brushes his teeth. When he climbs into bed, I close my eyes and immediately fall asleep.
I sleep in again but this time I don't bother glancing at my cell phone. I make coffee and get comfortable on the couch with my book. Tom reads the newspaper and the silence of the morning is welcome. Usually there is a TV blaring in the background. We read until the early afternoon and then Tom decides to get some new things for the upstairs apartment. I stay home and clean out a cupboard full of my stuff. I sift through old letters Tom wrote me, many of them accompanied by hand-drawn pictures. He doesn't write me letters anymore, although I wish he did. Introverted and a little shy, I often live in the written world, feeling truly myself when I can write things down. Computers and text messages allow for me to actively live in this world. I often find myself re-reading old emails and texts, true testaments to an event or information. However, I can easily erase these testaments, leaving only my own actions and memories. Now, I am solely relying on my own actions and have no way of reaching out to others through the world of technology.
There needs to be a balance. I need a balance between spending time using technology and truly living in my own world and doing things I love to do. Watching TV is not fulfilling, but I do it more than reading, something I actually enjoy. Perhaps I should disconnect more in the future.
Tom is home around three o'clock and while he puts together some new shades, I clean the kitchen and vacuum. Although empty, I can picture this apartment as our new home. We'll have separate areas for the computer and TV. We'll no longer need our table to be folded in half and can once again rest our feet on an ottoman instead of Tom's desk chair. We'll keep the comfortable, black leather loveseat left by the previous tenant and our uncomfortable couch will be merely decorative. We'll no longer fight about who gets to use the bathroom because we'll soon have two. My enthusiasm is only so great because I have no other distractions. Moving and cleaning would seem like a huge, boring chore any other day. Now, it's exciting and promises to keep me occupied.
We clean until we are hungry and then Tom boils water for ravioli. We cover the ravioli in homemade pesto and although Saturday night usually consists of dinner and a movie, we talk about our new apartment instead. Tom wants to move in by the middle of the week and I agree. The only hesitation with moving is that there is no Internet in the new apartment and it may take several days to get it. Tom and I need the Internet to do homework. We are both expected to access the Internet regularly for class and in order to do well, we cannot willingly disconnect from technology like I am doing now. Work and school require us to be connected and although not required, we also socially connect through sites like Facebook. With no true break in the cycle, there is no balance. I think about when my dad worked on his master's degree. He may have needed external resources, but the Internet wasn't available. In today's world, the Internet is the only way to stay current and although I need a balance, it becomes increasingly harder to turn my back on technology.
The rest of the night consists of enjoying a good book. I've successfully disconnected and have felt more connected to things going on in my own world because of the disconnect. But even as my pencil roughly etches these words on loose-leaf paper, I long for my laptop's keyboard.
Kathryn Farrell has a bachelor of arts degree in creative writing from SUNY Oswego. She is currently an information studies graduate student at the University at Albany and will graduate this December. She works at the University, Science, and Dewey Graduate libraries in the reference department.
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