I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I love discussion, argument and direct interaction. So while your 4LTG Hydro SuperSiri Blackbook Pro will look up how many sheep are in New Zealand before you can say Marino, I feel like it takes a lot of the fun out of talking your way through the answer. That being said, there’s really nothing like being able to send a triple chin photo to your boyfriend knowing it will self-destruct in less than 8 seconds.
My Granddad quarreled with the same inner struggle (ok, maybe not the triple chin thing, but he definitely had a soft spot for chain emails). He used to always tell me how my generation was one of technology, one that spent so much time turning to our pocket sized oracles that eventually we’d lose the capacity to communicate in real time, blurring the line between virtual and actual reality.
“Sure, Granddad,” I’d say, glancing at my phone hidden under the table.
This fall, I’ve found myself looking at that tiny light up screen fairly often (during break in conversation, a commercial on television…or a tenth heart beat). Sometimes, a little green or yellow box jolts me to action, and I swipe my thumb across the screen to discover and consume whatever tokens the outside world sent me. Even with nothing on my screen, I’ll still open it, you know, just in case.
As part of my reading for an Eastern Traditions class, I’ve been studying Jainism, a North Indian religion based on the tenets of nonviolence and asceticism that teaches a different kind of karmic nature than other Indian religions. Essentially, it teaches that the soul in and of itself is pure, but, through the course of a lifetime of human passions, it becomes entangled in negative karmic matter. The more karmic matter you accrue, the less likely you are to advance towards true release in your next life (Jains also believe that everything has a soul, even inanimate substances, which would be the hardest to break out of the karmic circle). The way to rid yourself of that matter is to renounce material things and live a simple life.
In the Jain scheme of things, I was well on my way to being reincarnated as a rock. A big rock. A boulder, even. With a granite shell of karmic mess to work through.
Traditionally, the Jinas (Jain monks), undergo an initiation ceremony called a diksha in which they give up their material livelihood. As I landed in Canada and headed to Canmore, the international capital of sluggish internet, I thought it might be the perfect place to undergo my own little diksha. I didn’t go full monty on the tradition, which requires going bald, naked and hungry (although if Canada weren’t so cold and full of poutine, I might have considered it). Instead, I renounced virtual reality.
For three days, I turned off my phone and computer and invested my time in the world around me. I hoped it would positively affect my skiing and writing, with an improved afterlife as a perk. What follows is a brief description of my journey.
Day One: Hysteria
Wake up, turn over phone to see the time. Dead screen. Ritual broken. Onset panic. What if a sponsor needs to get ahold of me? I didn’t even set up a ping back email. What if I’m given a three day deadline to make a decision on something. Oh my god. What if someone dies? If someone, somewhere, dies, I won’t know for three days! What if I die? If I’m dying in the woods and don’t have my phone to S.O.S snap my parents to decode then send a helicopter full of Canadian mounties to save me?
Then the phone rings, the landline. It’s my dad, asking if I’ve checked my email. I knew this was a bad idea, I bet someone’s died.
No one died. Everything was ok. I wasn’t completely disconnected, just taking a trip to 1996. I spent my day reading and writing. Between those activities, instead of staring at a screen, I daydreamed about staring at a screen. I faced unforeseen challenges like what you’re supposed to do when you don’t want to talk to someone or look at strangers. I made to-do lists for my return online (Email Grandmother…and Hannah…Look up phases of quitting addiction…Look up different between among and amongst…Revise blog “About” page)
I also had this undeniable feeling of missing out (FOMO). That night after team dinner, I experienced modern alienation. There were five people in the room accompanied by complete, utter silence. I looked around and realized that I was the only person not looking at a phone. I was the only person disconnected, yet somehow, the only person present.
Day Two: Enlightenment
As stories circulate newsstands about CEOs turning off their phones, business men rationing email and college students denouncing Facebook, it seems escaping the confines of expectant contemporary society in the name of nirvana is pretty trendy. On my second day, I totally bought in. Day two came bundled in soul searching, Buddha mindfulness, and hippie-be-present moments. I wrote the world “liminal” in my journal because I found something to do during those awkward in-between moments. Instead, I looked around. I breathed. I felt really, really good about myself.
I also got a lot done. I read all of my reading for the week and started my essay (in pen, by the way, I had no computer. Hand cramps–welcome to the 90s). I filled out my training log, and felt more mentally aware throughout training. Like Jessie Diggins on coffee, I ripped through activities. It felt real, man. Totally tubular.
Day Three: Annnndd…Over It.
Now I know why they say the first three days of quitting an addiction are the hardest (why, yes, I did find the time to look that up). Disillusionment in day three quickly replaced the high of day two. With finished homework and blistered hands, I found myself unimpressed by the liminal. I was bored. It occurred to me that by occupying my time outside of skiing and school with devices and screens, I had lost the ability to entertain myself. They say that the ability to entertain oneself is a condition of humanity. While dogs wait for a ball to be thrown, it’s our reasonable faculties that allow us to throw it.
On my third day, I finally broke through my tough technological brain tarp. I took a walk, wrote a letter, and felt ready to turn on my computer the next day. But I also kind of dreaded it. As I thought, I realized how much I liked not serving the internet’s beck and call. Again, I was torn. I wanted to return, but had the urge to keep hiding in NeverNeverLand.
45 emails, 43 snap chats, 23 notifications and one Facetime later, here I am. Reconnected. I can’t say that those three Waldenesque days were particularly life changing (I’m snapping a triple chin pic as we speak) but I can say that they were worthwhile. I’m grateful for the reminder that technology is a human construct. It helps us connect and communicate, but those things are not the same as interaction. Internet Annie does not exist. There is no other virtual world. Our computers are not extensions of ourselves. There is one me, one world and many ways to explore it. I’ll not forget that again.