Friday, March 9, 2018

Time to Unplug

OMG! How did I end up on the Daily Beast?!

Okay, not really. My hair is longer. But those glasses are spot on.

Seriously though, when the sun goes down this evening, it will mark the start of the National Day of Unplugging. And for much as I love technology's ability to connect my students and me with authors, writers, and experts of all varying kinds, an over-reliance on our smartphones, tablets, and all manner of digital devices can have a detrimental effect on our ability to connect in real time.

Dr. Kowal meets with my Public Speaking students in February 2017.
My friend and communications expert Dr. Chris Kowal has done quite a bit of research on this matter. A nonverbal communications scholar, Chris studied people's body positions as they engaged in using their smartphones. The study, conducted at Purdue University, concluded that our curled-up body position when using smartphones leads to stress. In a 2016 article in The Exponent, Chris stated, "...we need to be aware of how we use our smartphones."

And he's not alone in this call for moderation. About this time last year, the American Psychological Association (APA) released a report about American's use of digital technologies and their increasing rates of stress.  According to the report, nearly one-fifth of those surveyed reported that digital technologies were the source of "very or somewhat significant" stress in their daily lives.  Similar surveys have been conducted by Gallup, the Milken Institute, and the Pew Research Center. And there's a growing body of research on cell phone addiction.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love my technology. To be quite honest, I would not be the educator that I am today without the connections that I have fostered in digital spaces like Twitter and Facebook.  Or what about all those fantastic donors who have provided my classroom with books and Chromebooks and cameras through online networks like DonorsChoose and PledgeCents.  And Skype and Google Hangouts/Meet have connected my students with editors, authors, biologists, poets, and fellow students from all around the globe. Technology has transformed my classroom in amazing ways.  However, that said, we all could use a break from that constant connection.

I'm old enough to remember a world prior to cell phones, prior to people being to get in touch with you whenever or wherever you happened to be. In college, I would hop in my car, windows rolled all the way down, radio blaring, and make the hour drive to the Lake Michigan shore. Alone.  If someone needed me, it had to wait until I was back in my dorm room. In a similar sort of way, this is why I have always loved camping, being in the great wide open.  No need for televisions or phones or tablets or laptops when there are so many open spaces to explore. In a world where digital connections are ubiquitous, it is refreshing to be reminded of the real-life connections that we might be missing out when we walk through the world with earbuds in and our faces looking down at little glowing blue screens.

So, take the 24-hour challenge with me. Unplug from your devices for one day. Who knows, maybe you'll find more powerful connections in real-life.  At the very least, unplugging might help us to find a bit of balance in how we are using technology in our daily lives.

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