Unplugging in a Modern Connected World
Early last year, prior to the rise of COVID-19, I spent the very beginning of the year traveling with school groups on educational trips. One such trip was a week-long endeavor into the Veragua Rainforest in Costa Rica. By far, one of my most memorable trips, and I'm sure I'll get into more on my trips as time goes on! However, this was also my very first-semester re-entering college. My composition teacher assigned us to complete 24-hours, either documenting every time we used technology or documenting our day without using technology and writing our reflections on the experience.
This doesn't necessarily seem like a super deep reflection piece; however, I was truly surprised by the end of my writing just how much this exercise taught me. Going in, I was determined that a day without technology would be so simple in the middle of the rainforest, with only limited internet. I was, however, quite wrong, indeed!
A day without technology sounds incredibly magical to me, although, almost near impossible, in our modern connected world. I began this experience intending to turn off my day-to-day electronics and be fair; I was in a location with limited resources and an even more limited internet connection. How could I go wrong? Or so I thought. This overall experience has brought two main points to mind regarding how I use technology and how, at times, it uses me.
Starting at 6 pm, and in the middle of the Veragua Rainforest in Costa Rica, I had dinner with the student group I was leading. We then hiked on barely chartered paths seeking out and documenting frog species, and finally, we returned to our cabins to tuck in for an early evening. “I’ll read a book!” I thought but quickly realized I only had my e-reader, so I opted to settle in with some math homework and other coursework I had printed off before leaving. I was off to a great start.
That next morning, I was awoken by a tribe of Howler Monkeys not 200 feet away and creating a great ruckus in the trees. This is where my nonuse of technology went south. I immediately grabbed my phone and recorded the sounds quickly, sending it off to friends and family to share in my enjoyment. This carried on throughout my day, taking photos and videos and sharing them with the students and those back home.
In my own life, although I rarely use much of social media, I do enjoy the ability to share meaningful experiences with others, sometimes through messaging and email, and at other times on social media platforms. My job also often requires me to record and document these experiences for later use in marketing projects. Therefore, my first overall takeaway is that I can never truly “unplug.” Even when traveling to remote destinations where I may not have use of the internet, I still need to continually utilize what technology is at my disposal to fulfill my work-related duties.
This same concept now applies to school. I quickly ran into a significant issue while traveling where I could not access the school website or any related programs, including email, when I first arrived. I had believed that I was well prepared prior to travel with printouts of assignments and reading materials required during my trip. Still, I quickly realized that no matter how well I had previously prepared, without access to the technology, I was in a jungle with no bug spray, so to speak! This dependency on technology within my day-to-day life is something that I feel is both fantastic because it allows me the freedom to travel and explore while still maintaining my income, my studies, and my relationships. While on the other hand, it can genuinely hold me back from living and enjoying in the moment. At times, I can become too caught up in documenting these experiences instead of immersing myself in their enjoyment.
Secondly, this experience has also brought to mind how I use technology as my primary entertainment source, both when traveling and when at home. Whether it be in the form of video games, Netflix, YouTube, or even when I utilize my e-reader to consume books, everything I do in my free time centers solely around technology use. This is not to say that I do not get out and enjoy the outdoors. When traveling, it can be much more exciting to get out and explore the unknown, whereas the excitement swiftly becomes mundane when I’m faced with everyday home life. When faced with a very packed schedule, I feel that many people find it extremely difficult not to rely on what is easy to do to relax and unwind.
My overall conclusion is that as much as I need technology in my day-to-day life, I also tend to overutilize it when it may not be necessary. Taking the time to explore what is around me in a daily setting can re-excite the love of where I live and bring forth a new level of appreciation for many activities that I may typically disregard. Unplugging doesn’t necessarily need to be an all-or-nothing act. I can choose to either perceive it as a more conscious awareness of when technology can be deemed essential and when not. Or, I can continue to rely on what I have been thus far. My choice? To take a step back to immerse myself in activities that I enjoy, rather than documenting those experiences and never fully experiencing them myself.