Disconnection necessary in a technological world

By Erin Kircher

Contributing Writer

Several times in the past few weeks I have been called out for my speedy texting abilities. “Wow, you have some of the fastest thumbs I’ve ever seen” has become my most frequently received compliment. The first few times I heard this I just laughed it off, but the more I heard it, the more my embarrassment grew. It occurred to me that this skill of mine was just a testament to how outrageously addicted I was to my cell phone.

We are so overloaded today with new and exciting technological devices that often it seems almost painful to pull our attention away from them.

Todd Gitlin, author of “Media Unlimited,” notes that “for growing numbers of people, the world is a multiplex, chock-full of electronics: an arcade of amusements.” Whether it be the seemingly urgent, endless text messages of a friend or the new Facebook friend request from that cute boy or girl you met at last night’s party, technology constantly entertains us with new information.

Of course, this steady stimulation does have its downsides. “The freedom to be incidentally connected is not uncomplicated,” Gitlin says. “It goes with being incidentally accessible, which amounts to being on-call and interruptible everywhere.”

Being accessible anywhere at any time can be exhausting. Our hectic lives are already packed with the demands of schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Add to this the responsibility of answering texts, phone calls, e-mails, Facebook chat messages or wall posts and updating your Twitter. It’s no wonder many of us depend on multiple cups of coffee a day. We are expected to always be alert, available and reachable. This can really wear us down.

I’m not suggesting that you completely retreat from all technological temptations. In many ways, technology has greatly added to society’s progress and being so connected does have its benefits. What I am suggesting is that you find some time for yourself, even if it is for just 20 minutes. People are not built for this overstimulation and therefore should take an occasional break in order to stay balanced.

A quick session of meditation might be particularly beneficial in relieving stress. A recent study at Massachusetts General Hospital showed that mindfulness meditation causes structural changes in one’s brain. The press release stated: “Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.”

Meditation can also help people to be more aware of their surroundings. The distractions technology can cause may lead us to neglect what is happening around us. For instance, on your way to class, you might be texting rather than observing the new fallen snow blanketing the campus or waving hello to your friend passing by. Practicing meditation can train us to return our thoughts to the present moment.

The first time I tried meditating, I found myself fidgeting and ruminating on how much time had passed. What seemed like 15 minutes of silence turned out to be four minutes.

Hesitantly, I had turned off my phone and any background music playing on my iTunes, determined to disconnect myself and experience true serenity. I must admit, this silence lead to some anxiety at first. What if someone was trying to reach me? Even more distressing was the fact that I was completely alone with my thoughts which kept circling around the worries and stressors I had pushed to the back of my mind.

Once I persevered through this initial discomfort, I found myself looking forward to meditation. I could really see an impact that it had on my outlook from day to day. If I ever became overwhelmed, I reminded myself to return my focus to my breath, as I did in those quiet moments meditating. I’m pretty sure all that work on my amygdala really paid off.

In this fast-paced society, it is important to take the time to stop, relax and appreciate life’s fleeting moments. Maybe you can follow my lead and turn off your cell phone for a little while, sit cross-legged in your room and repeatedly chant “om” until you experience a peaceful state. Maybe you can go on a run and clear your head. You might even just want to try going to a party and dancing your heart out to Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.” Whatever your style, try to occasionally pull yourself away from technology and enjoy the present moment.

While I still might be spotted around campus occasionally texting at a furious speed, I do hope to stop the comments about my fast thumbs. I want my life to consist of real, authentic moments, rather than an overload of brief, abbreviated conversations via text.

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