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Sam Belknap describes what happened when he went for a week without any digital technology.

Look around you; how many people sitting or walking by are tapping away at a smartphone? Do you have yours in your hand right now or within arm’s reach? If you answer no, you must be lying. I am amazed by how smartphone technology is used by almost everyone I know. But is it too much? I took a week off all digital technology to find out if the modern student could survive without a smartphone or laptop.

Students are often distracted by social media

This has only been a recent thing – only in the last decade have we even had the concept of smartphones where the knowledge of the world is at your fingertips. How lucky are we, if you wanted to play Beethoven’s fifth, find out what the Da Vinci code is or what really happened in area 51 you can. And aren’t we all better for it? Do you feel empowered and knowledgeable?

Well, no. How much fake news did you see over the recent US election? I certainly swallowed fake Trump quote “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News.”

I was in an echo chamber for the European referendum, when InFacts, Europhile friends and the dreaded mainstream media filled up 80% of my newsfeed. I thought why would anyone want to leave? How wrong I was.

So I wanted to try it, no digital technology for a week. For two reasons: One to get out of the bubble of social media, two to see if my work was any better or worse, three to see if I could do it.

I gained valuable thinking time and felt properly relaxed for the first time in months

Armed with a paper diary and print outs for my first day, I would have liked to have said I got in to university in record time, but I just used the time I usually spend on social media to stay in bed a little longer.

I could have been an ASDA Price advert as I checked for my phantom phone throughout the day and week. I realised the only library catalogue was online. My lectures were on PowerPoint. I couldn’t buy lunch as I needed to use a chip and pin, who carries cash anyway?

Several group meetings were left uncompleted as I couldn’t access the Google Drive documents where we store all our data, google anything relevant to the product or share my work with my groups. My intramural team couldn’t let me know if the game was cancelled on Wednesday, and I heard a bit too late about a sailing social I couldn’t quite plan around it.

I had no one bothering me, group chats binging away or silly Facebook notifications.

But on the other side, I couldn’t be contacted, I could focus on task like never before. I could go through scenarios and just let my brain tick over. Bliss. I had no one bothering me, group chats binging away or silly Facebook notifications.

The best bit was the face to face interactions with people about an experiment I was doing and expanding on what can often get lost in group chats on Facebook. It was also an excellent excuse to get out of former bad habits.

For example, with a close former flatmate, we would either see each other by going round to watch a football match, play FIFA on his XBOX, or at a social event. This time I saw him in the street and we spontaneously spent the night having debates about things we had never talked about in our 3 and a half year friendship.

I went home on the weekend and had conversations with my parents uninterrupted by a phone for the first time in years.

Sam bought a typewriter to University

I saved 1.5 kilowatt hours this week (1.3 from my laptop and 0.2 from my phone) giving me a carbon saving of a whopping 0.647kg of CO2.

I was relieved to get back on technology, but the first day back “on” was far worse than the first day “off”! I had 12 Facebook messages and 92 notifications to read and deadlines rapidly approaching.

I almost reached breaking point getting all the loose ends back together and the meetings with my groups weren’t cordial as I struggled to get to speed with the group plans, deadlines I had little knowledge of the social events going on in the coming week.

Overall, a mixed experience. I lost out on larger community events like societies and friends who were further away, but I gained valuable thinking time and felt properly relaxed for the first time in months. So if you do leave your phone at home this week, don’t panic. Enjoy time off from the virtual world and take a break. Just don’t use a typewriter like I did, its one step too far.


Would you ever try a digital detox? Let us know!

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