As I sit here on my laptop with my smartphone on one side of me and the video baby monitor on the other, I am the picture of ‘plugged in.’ But last weekend for 48 hours I partially unplugged as a means of reflecting on how and why I use technology and whether it’s helping or hindering.
The school district I teach in was one of many this year that showed students, parents, and community members the new documentary, Screenagers. While I never got to see it myself (we were in conferences when it was shown), our school community has been engaged in conversations for years about the amount of technology students use in and out of the classroom and whether it is to their benefit or not. What wasn’t talked much about was the amount of technology the adults were using.
So when it was announced that the students would be challenged to participate in an “Unplugged” weekend, I was intrigued. I wondered how many kids would partake even with the bribe of a Chipotle lunch. I was also interested in whether they were old enough to really self-reflect and learn from such an experience. I hoped they were. I even decided to help with that self-reflection (and add to the bribery) by offering an extra credit writing assignment with topics for them to consider.
But middle schoolers are savvy and while most kept their reactions to such a proposal to silent eye rolls, a few came right out and asked the adults when they’d be giving up their phones. They wanted us to put up or shut up, or more accurately to turn off or shut up.
They had a point.
Adults could argue that our brains are fully developed and that we’re mature enough to use technology responsibly. We probably use apps that we deem necessary (because Candycrush is saving the world), write more emails than texts (all work-related I’m sure), watch more educational television (there’s something to be learned from Grey’s Anatomy marathons, right?), and partake in less online bullying (um, have you seen the mom-shaming online or read the president’s Twitter feed?).
But does it matter how we use technology, if the technology we use becomes all-consuming? Are we as adults any less guilty of overdoing screen time and under-appreciating the real-life moments happening right in front of us?
I wasn’t sure we are. Actually I was pretty convinced I was as guilty as many of my students of being addicted to certain aspects of technology. And as an adult who knows better, I suppose one could argue I was twice as bad. My guilty tech-pleasures are watching the local television news (even during meals), and using my phone for Facebook, my online Single Mother’s by Choice forums, and Pinterest, with occasional dabbling on Instagram and Twitter. The older my little guy gets, though, the more guilt and the less pleasure I have when I catch myself checking my phone or looking over his head to see the news when I should be enjoying time with him.
So last weekend I joined the over sixty kids at my school in the “Unplugged Challenge.” While as a single mom who was doing some highway traveling at night with the baby, I didn’t feel comfortable actually handing over my phone as many of them agreed to, for 48 hours I did turn off all social media apps and pledged not to watch television when my guy was awake. So just after noon on Friday I went dark.
Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but dramatic was exactly what I expected. But not exactly what I experienced. For those revelations, check out part two.
Oh, and for any fellow educators or parents of teens out there who are interested, here are the discussion questions I provided my students to help them reflect:
- How do you normally use social media/technology throughout your day/weekend? How did giving it up change your daily activities?
- What was the hardest thing to give up? Why?
- Were there positives of putting your phone down? Explain.
- What aspects of having a smart phone/technology felt necessary before this experiment? Did giving up some/all change your mind about anything?
- What time of day did you miss your technology the most? What did you do instead? Explain.
- Was this a worthwhile experiment? Would you recommend other kids and adults try it?
- Will you try to make any changes to your use of technology as a result of your experience?
Photo credit: Nathaphat Chanphirom | Dreamstime.com