Here’s What Happens When You

22 Mar

unplugfor a Week

After reading a blog entry entitled the world UNPLUGGED, I was inspired to write up a small study of my own to conduct with my students during a service trip I was leading during spring break. After all, we were going to be in the middle of nowhere with no Internet access. I was curious to see whether the experience would be enhanced by the fact that we were going to be unplugged from the rest of the world.

appstate-team-2016

I presented the study to the students who were taking part in the Alternative Service Experience during Spring Break and they all agreed to take part. We were to spend one week volunteering with Eye on the Rainforest, staying at Las Casas de la Selva, in Patillas, Puerto Rico. Using recycled paper, we created journals to write our reflections. Students were to write one entry just before leaving, one in the middle of the week, and one at the end of the trip. At Las Casas de la Selva, we organized the sheds and wood workshop, deconstructed an old roof, and even dug a ditch for a new floor. I was mostly in charge of cleaning and organizing the library. The days were long and the work was strenuous. In the evenings we were all pretty tired but we still managed to find time to reflect and share on our daily activities.

aliadahlanimagebefore leavingon FacebookThe first entry that the participants had to write was about the fears, uncertainties, and misgivings they were having in the face of no Internet access once we arrived to our destination. At the airport in San Juan, upon landing, I reminded the participants to send their last messages and to sign off.

Their comments were not surprising and mirrored my own fears. They were all wondering whether they would feel alienated, lonely, lost without their familiar surroundings, their constant check ins with families and friends, their cherished connections, and their daily routines. They felt that their world without texting and IM-ing would be lost and unbearable. Some feared missing their loved ones and wondered how the week will pass without their one constant, their IPhones.

coquiHowever Las Casa de la Selva was a feast for the eyes and the soul. It is easy to forget about the world when one is in the midst of majestic trees, with the Puerto Rican coquí frogs lulling us into slumber with their songs from dusk through dawn.

During the middle of our stay, after having had time to relax on a beautiful beach and visiting Old San Juan, students’ reflections on being unplugged were so rich and encouraging. I was pleasantly surprised to hear how happy and relieved they felt without the technology. Most expressed comments that said they felt they had more time, lived more mindfully, and felt more connected and alive than ever. When one student admitted she felt so relieved and had not realized how enslaved she was by her IPhone, others echoed in agreement.

Following are some of the comments from their journals

In the beginning…

I will have so many messages when I come back. I am not looking forward to that.

It is going to be very hard to go from Skype-ing my boyfriend every day to no contact at all. 

I am nervous about not being able to get online, mainly because I wouldn’t be “in the loop” of social media…

The last time I was Internet-less and phone – less was… I can’t remember if that ever happened.

Midway into the week…

This isn’t so bad, but I’m sure I’m missing a lot of emails and group messages. 

I feel extremely relieved. I have absolutely no desire to check on social media or communicate with anyone other than my mom and sister.

Who knew how nice it would be to have a free pass to not have to respond to texts messages and emails, given that everyone knows I am in the middle of the rainforest.

When we got to PR I was so caught up in the excitement of being in a new and beautiful place that I forgot all about my phone. I never once wished to get on social media during the trip. I feel as though the experience of being in the rainforest would not have been as great if we did have the internet with us, because we would have been heavily distracted and incapable of fully absorbing the moment.

In the End…

Only 6 notifications popped up on my phone in Charlotte. I do have 80 Facebook notifications and about two dozen emails. It actually isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. 

For some reason, social media has a way of making you think that you need to be keeping up with hundreds of people. We have been conditioned to think that we are missing out if we don’t scroll through a day’s worth of Instagram, Facebook and even Twitter postings every single day, and for some every single hour.

Man, Social media has been exhausting me and I didn’t even know it.

Now that I am back, I noticed that I wasn’t checking social media nearly as much as I was before the trip. When we got to PR I deleted all my social media and I only re-downloaded Snapchat and Instagram once we got back home, leaving behind Facebook and twitter. It feels good to be less attached to my phone now.

If people didn’t have the expectation that I will receive their messages and calls immediately and respond shortly after, I wouldn’t check my phone on a regular basis at all. I think it’s important to live in the moment, and phones greatly hinder our ability to do that.

Constantly being connected to an entire network of people is a lot to deal with and can be stressful. Although there are many benefits to having a smartphone, going on a Digital Sabbath has made me question if they are really worth it.  

Now, I am not nearly as amused by social media as I was before, and have greatly lowered my Internet activity.

Disconnecting from technology even for one day a week has its benefits. It allows us to recharge and refresh. It gives us time to reconnect with nature, to be fully present, and to awaken to our dreams and goals. During this one week Digital Sabbath,the students were given a glimpse of what life is without the constant barrage of emails, texts, calls, and notifications, that buzz and ping us 24 hours a day. Unplugging for one week or for one day shows we are plugged in to what truly matters.