Recently, I returned from spending ten days overseas. During this time, I had no internet, no phone reception and at times, no electricity, meaning that yes (shudder), I was without unlimited access to Facebook. And guess what? This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I survived! Quite happily, I might add.
Spending time away from the luxuries of Western life that we take for granted got me thinking. How often do we use technology? Furthermore, how much time do we actually spend on social media? There are so many appliances and gadgets and devices that we take for granted because they have become so ingrained in our everyday lives. More than that, there are so many unnecessary programs and games that consume hours and hours of our time (Candy Crush level 65 anyone?) and for what? Entertainment? Mental stimulation? An antidote to boredom? Fancy having to sit there and actually think.
Phoneless (or at least connected phoneless), I was forced to embrace life without Facebook. Without Twitter. Without SMS. It’s amazing how accustomed our hands become to having a phone in them. Without one, what are we meant to do with them? Let our fingers sit there? Twiddle our thumbs? For somebody my age, it certainly leaves a strange void. It’s not that I feel super connected to my phone. I mean, if I forgot to take it out with me and it was left at home for the day, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. A slight nuisance, perhaps, given the state of connectedness phones provide us with constantly, but not a big deal. That’s not to say I wouldn’t notice the little things, like sitting on lunch break: not a problem when you have Facebook or the internet to play with. Waiting for the bus alone? No stress. Just fiddling with your phone makes you look popular. So what if passersby think you’re organizing some cool party when in actual fact, you’re just checking your e-mail? Or uni schedule? Or Facebook? Again.
However, embrace life without it I did. And it’s the other little things, the important things, that we realize we’ve been missing out on when we fill them with the act of phone-fiddling, or Facebook stalking, or Instagramming. Like making new friends on the bus, instead of sitting there with earphones in. Or people watching from your table at the café while eating lunch. Or even the little, meaningless conversations between two friends who would otherwise be each separately consumed in their individual social media accounts on their phones, which often turn out to be not quite so meaningless. A smile shared between two strangers. A child’s giggle as it runs down the street. A moment experienced with someone you care about. All things that are missed daily due to our obsession with phones and gadgets, social media and connectedness. Are we really connected if we are absent from real life?
Without a phone, I had to interact. Really interact. Like not through emoticons or abbreviations or hashtags. Through conversation and body language and smiles. I stayed on an island where there was no electricity, yet all of the villages were self-sustainable. The locals didn’t own phones, let alone have a social media account of any kind. Did they even have time to waste on games or posts or online stalking? Not a chance. And do you think they were unhappy? Not even slightly. Maybe there’s something to be said for life without technology.
I don’t think we realize just how much social media has impacted our lives. Sure, we all realize it’s playing a major role in today’ society (for marketing, education, even politics), but who has recently sat down and calculated the hours they spend online per day? Per week? Per month? I don’t even want to think about how much time I’ve wasted scrolling down my newsfeed, and I definitely know people who are worse than me. Imagine all of the productive things I could have done, the things I could have accomplished. There certainly isn’t space for time-wasting when you have to work everyday to ensure a meal is put on the table. And I don’t mean just to get money to buy food, I mean literally ensure the food is collected and prepared ready to be served and eaten.
Personally, I don’t think that social media is a bad thing and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t check Facebook once while I was away (I had to let Mum and Dad know I was still alive somehow)! However, I enjoyed experiencing life without having access to it 24/7. It really did make me appreciate the little things, as well as notice just how dependent we are on technology and, more specifically, social media. A certain contentedness is attached with knowing that you can’t be contacted at any second of the day. And you really do get used to not being able to google something at the press of a button, just to prove your friends wrong. And really, who needs to be able to instantly download that song they just heard on the radio anyway?
Sitting on the plane on the way home, reflecting on the whole experience, I realized I actually found it quite liberating. But then came reality. We landed at Sydney airport, collected our luggage and grabbed a taxi. “Oh yeah, we can use our phones now!” Turn it on, straight to Facebook. I looked up and realized every other passenger was also absorbed in their phones, highly likely doing the same thing. I was definitely home.