“The experiment hasn’t even started yet, and already spending 24 hours without technology is affecting my life,” senior Melissa Luby said before she disconnected from her phone and laptop for an entire day. Luby warned her Facebook friends that she would be absent from social media and planned her homework around not being able to access Microsoft Word.
Along with two other students, Luby traded her phone and other technology for a notebook and pen to journal for 24 hours.
“I fell asleep super fast last night,” freshman Nicole Pilbeam said. “I usually sit up for hours looking at my phone before bed.” Going off the grid helped Pilbeam to relax and boosted her creativity, as she used the time to paint.
“Phone is off,” Sophomore Erica Browning said. “I’m going out with a friend tonight so it shouldn’t be too big a deal not having it. Maybe it’ll help me be more present. I’m only just now realizing that a watch would be a good investment.” Browning became frustrated at how much her friends relied on technology once she cut off her obsession-or-maybe addiction to technology.
Here is where the terminology becomes muddy. When it comes to any sort of addiction to technology, “the literature has not caught up to technological progress,” Dr. Lisa Vander Veer, Director of Counseling and Health Services, said via email. Be- cause of this, “technology addiction as an actual disorder is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V),” Veer said. The DSM-V lists gambling and many substances as addictive disorders, but has yet to speak on issues dealing with more modern issues.
It does help to look at what qualifies as an addiction. “Generally, addiction is a problematic pattern of use over time that leads to clinically significant impairment or distress,” Veer said. “A person often experiences physiological or psychological withdrawal, builds up a tolerance to the stimulus, and needs more and more of it to get the same effect.”
The study conducted by these three Olivet students is not long enough to make any conclusions from, but two of the subjects expressed some level of withdrawal symptoms.
Luby is at a loss without technology. “We have [a] grand total of ONE board game in our apartment: Yahtzee,” she wrote. “I don’t even know how to spend time with my loved ones without technology.”
Browning had difficulty not taking her phone with her when she went to bed. “I’m fighting this weird urge to take my turned off phone to bed with me still,” Browning said. “That’s really bad. It’s basically the equivalent of an adult binky.”
As Browning noticed her apartment mates on their phones, she became determined to not be on her phone before going to bed in the future.
Conversely, Pilbeam experienced a sense of calm by turning off technology. “I totally would recommend one day or even just a night with no technology,” Pilbeam said. “It really is helping me connect with myself again.”
Veer believes that social media presence adds to the everyday stress of life. She wonders how many students recognize that “social media presence” is a large priority in their life.
“Many people spend more time on social media than they do socializing in person, exercising, praying or reading their Bible,” Veer said. “These are valuable lessons that suggest if we take time to ‘unplug’ during in-person social interactions or when work needs to get done, it could be very beneficial. It could be as simple as taking two to three hours a day where we intentionally go offline (maybe even let family and friends know we are doing this) in order to enjoy the present moment and be more productive.”
All three subjects in the experiment reported wanting to do the experiment again.
“Going to turn my phone back on now. It’s strange,” Browning wrote. “I really don’t want to, and if I owned an alarm clock I probably wouldn’t. It sucks a little sitting in a room when all of your friends are on their phones. We’re not comfortable with silence, which really might say something about how shallow most friendships are. Without technology, I’ve gotten more done. I waste so much time on my phone or watching Netflix. More than I realize. I wish I could say this would change something about my life, but in all honesty it probably won’t. I’m a creature of habit and technology is a big one. Maybe at most I hope I am more self-aware, and, at least, I know now that I’m capable of going 24 hours without technology.”
An important side note, in our technologically dependent society, is that important conversations—fights, breakups, confessions—should be done in person, Veer noted.
“I cannot tell you how many times students tell me about an intense conversation they had with someone and then will pull out their phone to ‘show’ me the conversation,” Veer said. “If at least two-thirds of communication is non-verbal, we miss a great deal by using technology to have tough conversations. It can be more difficult to have these conversations face to face, but today’s emerging adults would benefit from the practice.
—Nathan DiCamillo, Life and Culture Editor