Last Thursday, I opened my computer to do some reading before class and the unthinkable happened: It would not turn on. After charging it for an hour, holding down the power button periodically for ten-second increments and calling every member of my family twice in hope that any of them would somehow be able to fix it from more than 300 miles away, I found myself late for class and still without a working computer. I resolved to take it to the Apple store as soon as I had time, but with five hours of classes ahead of me, I knew that wouldn’t be until the end of the day at the earliest.
I struggled to copy down by hand the exhaustive notes I’m used to taking when typing and felt helpless in my Italian class when we were asked to find articles online. I didn’t know how to explain in Italian that my laptop was broken and I couldn’t turn to an online translator for assistance. It quickly became clear to me how much I rely on technology on a day-to-day basis; even to make an appointment at the Genius bar to get my computer fixed, I had to borrow a friend’s computer.
But after the initial adjustment to taking handwritten notes for the first time since high school, I realized I was absorbing just as much, if not more, information than I normally do. Rather than regurgitating word-for-word what my professors were saying onto Microsoft Word, I was summarizing their points in a few sentences, which forced me to listen more intently to their arguments.
I also learned the reliability of taking notes by hand. Though less efficient than typing and easier to lose, a notepad will not crash in the middle of a paper or freeze while you’re studying for an exam.
The absence of my computer also left me without any of the typical distractions during class that the Internet provides. I usually try to avoid using my computer for anything other than taking notes during class, but I still occasionally fall victim to the temptation of checking my Facebook or returning an email during lecture. It’s easy to forget how disrespectful that act is to our professors, who spend hours preparing the lectures they teach each week and are so passionate about the material they are imparting to us. But we are also doing a disservice to ourselves. Each lecture we attend is worth a small fortune, and if we are spending the majority of our days sitting in class, we might as well make use of our money and time and stay focused on what is being taught. Not having a laptop in class makes it that much harder for you to stray from the lesson at hand.
When I finally took my computer to the Apple store, they said they would need to hold it for three days. I was forced into taking a break from technology — not just inside the classroom but outside as well.
Looking back, I found those three days to be a much-needed digital retreat. I clocked some much-needed face time with friends rather than communicating with them over Facebook. I spent my free time reading or running errands rather than browsing through pictures posted by people I haven’t spoken to since elementary school.
We spend so much time staring at our computer screens, scrolling through our newsfeeds and typing keystrokes until our eyes hurt. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there’s a way to exist without such a desperate dependence on electronics.
Though a total break from technology isn’t always practical, a temporary respite — even if not totally voluntary — can be a necessary relief. My fondest childhood memories are from summers spent at camp miles away from phone towers and the optic cables that bring us the Internet. The only way we could interact with each other was face-to-face. The only way we could stay in touch with our family and friends back home was by writing letters. A break from technology provides us with a breath of authenticity, pushing us to be more present and to find value in our immediate surroundings.
Ally Daniels is a junior in Berkeley College. Her columns run on alternate Mondays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.