In a world so digitally dependent, where our entertainment, work and social relationships are deeply intertwined with technology, the concept of unplugging and walking away from social media and digital technology seems difficult, if not impossible.
Even so, there are many that are concerned about this dependence — this need that we as a society have developed to be connected 24/7. Many advocate for unplugging, suggesting that digital technology is bad for our brains, our productivity, our real-life relationships and that it causes anxiety and increases work-related stress. Many suggest that social networks actually make us lonely and provide compelling arguments about why everyone should unplug more often.
The Forbes article, Text or Talk: Is Technology Making You Lonely, expresses the concern that people use the internet to avoid our realities and “whether loneliness leads people to the Internet, or the internet to loneliness, it seems that many of us turn to the internet to avoid simply being with ourselves.” It advocates for turning off our devices and spending time focused on real life relationships. This is supported by the other article, Why Everyone Should Unplug More Often, which tells us that “scheduling regular “rest time” in the form of unplugging makes sense—like a muscle, the brain needs recovery time in order to develop and grow”
On the flipside, we have others arguing that unplugging is pointless, that technology is empowering and we should just use technology to relieve anxiety and stress. To me, this seems dangerous. I do not believe that increasing our use of digital technology, social networks and the internet are the solution to the social and personal ills that these things cause.
But I also do not believe that that everyone unplugging is the answer. We cannot all simply disconnect. We are too far down the rabbit hole for that.
My classmate Steve talked last week about the challenge he does with his class, wherein he and all of his students unplug for a full month. By the sounds of it, there are mixed levels of success from his students. Although I see the attempt at doing this for a month as a very difficult challenge indeed, I do believe that there is merit in it. Our students were born into a digital world, whereas many of us are able to remember a time when we were less digitally connected. For them, the idea of being without their devices or internet access for a day, let alone a month, is likely quite the challenge indeed. A month might be a little extreme, but I do see the benefit of encouraging students to try to spend some time unplugged, interacting with real people, in a real environment.
I do believe that that looking critically at our personal digital technology and internet use, and perhaps curbing it a little might be worthwhile. We’ve spent a lot of time in this course weighing the pros and cons of aspects of digital tech and seem to often come to the same conclusion — that it is fine in moderation, but can be dangerous. If your usage is at the point of addiction, maybe it warrants a bit of a break. Unplugging is rarely permanent, and does not need to be, but remembering that there is a whole real world out there is probably worth something.