On Tuesday, I turn off my phone and computer. I leave both at home and start seeing what I’ve missed when my eyes have been stuck to glowing screens.
I started “No Technology Tuesday” in the beginning of the school year, when the idea of using my phone all the time was jarring. I was just back from a few months living in and out of my tent in Patagonia and then Alaska, where, whether it was true or not, I started most emails with the sentence, “I’m sorry for the delay — I haven’t had Internet access in awhile.” But it became harder to use this line while living in a town where, as I write this column, I have 32 options for Wi-Fi networks to join.
I realized that I couldn’t concentrate well or feel relaxed amid this obsessive connectivity, and I didn’t want to get used to it again. I didn’t want to plan my Friday night on Monday, or my summer in September. Unable to self-regulate with my phone nearby, I started leaving it at home, doing work without it in cafés down Orange Street or running free from it for hours around East Rock, no zinging vibration in my pocket pulling me away from the present.
I, of course, love my friends who send emoji-strewn texts and post funny Instagrams and send email reminders of the many shows I must attend this weekend, but when technology’s always at hand, I forget what it is like to pay attention. I am talking about real attention, not the feigned kind supposedly marked by my physical presence. I was at an improv show this weekend, and looked at the other seats in my row. Four out of the five people were ignoring the impression of a dancing fish on stage, choosing to fixate on the texts, and for one of them, the Tetris, on the screens in their laps instead.
We all know that we’re addicted to technology: We notice each other’s phones resting on our thighs beneath the seminar table. We see the email window open next to our notes in lecture. We’ve grown used to the shameful glare in our eyes at parties, slowing our dance moves and thwarting our conversations.
We are good at faking attention, even when hanging out with our friends. Imagine someone we’ve all been before: You slip messages to, say, your boyfriend, beneath the table at lunch, while making listening sounds to the roommate you haven’t seen for days. But the listening sounds don’t always mean you’re listening; if this boyfriend you’re planning to hang with later was at the table with you and the roommate, would you really be trying to maintain these two conversations at once? Would you be debating which library you’ll study at with the boyfriend while also discussing your roommate’s indecision about spring break plans? You and the roommate and the boyfriend would all immediately realize that you were not paying real attention to anyone.
We might be used to our double act, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Since ritualizing No Technology Tuesday, it’s become my weekly holiday. I abstain from checking my email in bed. I walk out the door with only books and pens in my bag. Instead of searching for a screen, I stop and watch gulls circle overhead. Without breaks to check up on the latest music video featuring a goat, I scribble exclamation points in the margins of my reading. Soon enough, the thought that someone has tried to get in touch with me loosens. I see the city — full of swaying branches and shaking leaves. Can you imagine looking up when you walk, and seeing it more of this city all Tuesday long?
Today, you could start. It might go like this: We could run into each other in a coffee shop in the late afternoon and decide to hang out, because we would both be so charmed by the surprise of it, having not texted and emailed and been annoyed at the other for canceling or showing up a Yalie-standard 20 minutes late. We could pay attention to each other — listen well, finish sentences, make eye contact, be unembarrassed about how excited we are about the books we devoured all morning. Then we might wander around after the coffee, and marvel together at the ring of color around the gauzy moon, or that sculpture on Chapel Street with the cool shapes we’ve both passed hundreds of times and not seen. Only reluctantly would we return to our rooms, turn on our phones and see what we’ve “missed.”
Diana Saverin is a senior in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .