Do We Need To Unplug?

// Posted by on 01/30/2012 (11:18 PM)

Look familiar?

These days, we use social media to connect with our friends. But even when we’re around our friends we are still locked into technology. It’s not unusual to see a group of friends sitting around the dinner table, all on their phones texting, tweeting, or checking facebook.

So the question is does technology interfere with our personal relationships?

Last fall, Jack Reilly, a college student living in Chicago, decided to explore the answer to this question. Fed up with the amount of time he felt he wasted using technology rather than having face to face connections with friends, Reilly decided to unplug from all forms of social media for 90 days. He gave up the internet, email, phone calls, texting, and even TV. What he found was that some of his more casual relationships fizzled but he could make more meaningful connections with the people around him. He was able to get back together with his girlfriend because when they were together they were able to fully focus on each other and their relationship and he got much more creative with what he did in his free time because he had lots more of it now. For more details, check the article out here.

In response to Reilly, New Media theorist would argue that humans have co-evolved with technology, and that the importance of technology in our lives is not just about the technology and its capabilities, but rather, it is about how the technology is embodied in our lives. Technology does just serve a functional purpose but it can also satisfy our emotional, perceptual, and social needs.

In my opinion, Reilly actually proves that this is true by demonstrating how our social patterns have evolved with technology. Reilly talked with members of older generations who told him that when they were younger and wanted to make plans they would drive over to each others’ houses to try to find them or there would be a diner in town that people where people would always meet up and where you could always find friends who were looking to hangout. But today technology has given us new means and we’ve evolved. Instead of driving to a friend’s house to see if they’re available ,we text or facebook them. Even when Reilly thinks he’s getting away from technology, he finds that he is using means of communication which resemble the technology he has grown accustomed to, like the public notes on the elevator door which resemble a facebook wall.

I think Reilly’s overall point is valid. Our generation does spend way too much time using social media rather than connecting face to face. And there have been studies done which show how our generation has poor phone skills because we constantly rely on texting. But I think that abandoning all social media is an extreme that does not have to be taking. I think it’s more important to be a member of a physical community, whether that be friends, family, or a neighborhood, than an international community of angry bird players. But those physical communities can also be proliferated online. Social media provides useful ways to connect, learn, and spread information. But there needs to be some balance between the time we spend plugged in and the time we spend “unplugged” enjoying life outside of technology. In short, its fine that we check our e-mails, that we connect via facebook, and occasionally get sucked into youtube black holes, but we also need to make a commitment to ourselves to put the phone away when we’re sitting a dinner table with family and friends. When we’re in a social situation, it’s more important to really be in that setting and make a connection, than to pull out our phones and tweet about what we’re doing or make sure we get that one last angry bird.

Don’t be this person. . . .

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Bridget said...

I completely agree with Renee’s take on finding a technology balance. While the benefits of technology can be used for learning, progress, and growth, sometimes we find ourselves using it for reasons other than those – for example, communication. Communication has evolved with such magnitude and speed since we were born, it sometimes seems hard to keep up. However, we all text, Tweet, Facebook, e-mail, etc. as we all want to be kept in fast, constant communication with others. But do we ever really think about how much time we waste only using technology for that? I’ve come to find that some people feel that keeping in touch with someone via one or more of these communication technologies constitutes as a relationship (friendly or personal). Obviously, two people who are separated by physical distance would want to keep in technological communication to keep up with one another. But what about two people living in the same dorm building, campus, or town? Some of my friends that will frequently and regularly text me feel that going a week without seeing one another is acceptable because we are “always talking”. Here’s a newsflash: talking with someone verbally and spending physical time with them is an essential aspect to a valuable relationship and completely different from texting. Now I know what some of you are going to say, “What if I’m busy? I have too much stuff to do I won’t have any time to see you!” Oh, having a packed agenda is fine – but if you’re going to keep texting, Tweeting, e-mailing, and Facebooking during that time then obviously you’re not THAT busy. You are spending an incredibly good chunk of your time using communication technologies (in fact one study has claimed the average person spends about 45% of their day using some means of technology). So please, if you’re truly busy, do not be texting or Tweeting. It just makes you seem uninterested in the relationship that you don’t care enough to spend time together in person. God forbid anyone wastes any of your precious “jam-packed busy” time that you almost always appear technologically in-tune and available during. Do not be that person that has a texting, rather than a real, relationship with someone.

// 01/31/2012 at 6:35 pm

Allison said...

It truly is remarkable how people have completely accepted technology to be a part of who they are—a part of their identity. My day begins and end with my cell phone in hand. In the morning I reach for my iPhone’s strumming wake up call, hit snooze several times before check my messages, facebook, and e-mail all before getting out of bed. At night I do the reverse—mail, facebook, twitter, set the alarm. Sounds silly.
People express themselves to the world, not just their friends, through facebook, twitter, flickr, and blogs. While I understand the argument that cell phones and iPods disconnect people from the present and inhibit their ability to enjoy their companies presence, I would argue that technology has allowed for us to be more connected. I imagine that most people have utilized facebook to reconnect with an old friend. Perhaps some of these reestablished relationships remain surface level, but perhaps the rekindling turned into a weekly coffee date. Technology allows for much easier to access to other people with similar interests outside of technology. For instance, while browsing facebook I landed upon a running club that I joined where I run and mingle with others once a week. Through technology I was able to find someone that took technology out of my life for an hour. Not to mention that I’ve made new friends through it! Without the use of technology I may not have ever learned about this running group and made these new friends—so I think I’ll keep my gadgets!

// 01/31/2012 at 6:51 pm

Abbey said...

I completely agree that technology has taken over our lives and we all need to “unplug,” if only for a short period of time. I recently deactivated my Facebook account, wavering between going as extreme as cutting myself off from all forms of technology, including using a cell phone and the internet in general. I decided, for the sake of my education (or maybe just an irrational fear of becoming desolately disconnected from the world), that I needed certain resources (like the internet in general) in order to perform academically, if nothing else. However, I am cutting myself off from all social media interaction in an effort to focus more on my actual social relationships–the ones that I participate in every day, in “real life.” But I agree with your point that social media doesn’t necessarily have to “take over” our lives; it has the potential to actually enhance those personal relationships that we sometimes live out over the net. The balance you suggest is exactly what I think needs to be done, but I also think it can only really be achieved by the somewhat extreme means of cutting oneself off from social media completely for a short period of time in order to break the habits we’ve formed. Realizing that a balance provides a richer, closer, personal relationship with someone (in using both social media and “real life” to connect with them) will come from letting go of social media in order to re-discover the ways in which connections can be made without it.

// 01/31/2012 at 7:06 pm

Tommy said...

I agree that a balance needs to be struck between time spent plugged in and time spent in the real world, but I don’t really see our reliance on technology as problem that would interfere with personal relationships. And to play devil’s advocate… My roommate has been dating his girlfriend for a little over 8 years (almost half his life… I know). And I can’t help but think that technology is what saved the relationship over the last three and a half years that they were separated (she goes to college in New York City). I know that they text constantly all day long, and that they’re often on the phone, but this isn’t physical contact (the closest they get is Skype, which at least let’s you see the other person). And if anything I think this lack of a physical connection is what makes their relationship so strong; they need to work at the relationship a lot harder than they might if they were always together in person, and I think it makes their relationship stronger. While this is a very extreme example, so was Jack Reilly’s. Forsaking all of technology right now would cause a significant portion of society to either flunk out of school or lose their jobs. But you’re right, this is where balance comes into play. I just wanted to make the point that technology isn’t what’s hurting personal relationships, it’s the people using the technology, and there’s no reason that we can’t stay as immersed as we want with social media and what-not and still maintain close-personal relationships. Instead of looking at technology as a crutch, we should look at it as a catalyst that will help these relationships flourish.

// 01/31/2012 at 7:36 pm

Kelsey said...

It seems that balance is the word, ironically enough it seems that this is something humans are inherently bad at doing. Anyone who has been or is going to college has heard many times that there are three options presented to them; sleep, academics, and a social life. Now, pick two.
Juggling all three can be difficult and doing so successfully depends on how well a person knows their limits. Thus, not only would detaching ourselves from the technological umbilical cord benefit our interpersonal relationships but also, how well we know ourselves. Consequently allowing us to be apart of this technological world without drifting between extremes of total dependence and complete cutoff.

On another note- It would be intriguing to organize some kind of technology cutoff day, just to see what that would be like.

// 01/31/2012 at 11:12 pm