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Greg Gottlieb: Our dependence on phones

Statistically speaking, if you heard about today’s “UNH Phone Free Day” – organized on Facebook by UNH student Olivia Moore – there was a 78.9% chance (the percentage of Facebook’s daily user access from mobile devices) that you did so on your cell phone.
Oh, the irony.
A friend of mine at Cornell University was recently telling me about a campus-wide campaign that he initiated, called “CU [dis]connect”, which urged his classmates to “reevaluate their relationship with technology.” Over the course of three days, the 140 participating students exchanged their routine “hyper-connectivity” with their social media outlets and cell phones for a more meaningful daily engagement. Through a variety of interactive programs and events hosted by four campus organizations and academic departments, students took a grueling, unimaginable, three day hiatus from their cell phone dependence and functioned as, you know…normal people. The event was a huge success and he was awarded a financial grant and university award for his efforts.
Before I lose you, worry not: I am certainly not one of those “normal” people. I am not here to offer a prearranged, chastising lecture on how terrible it is that our generation was the first to ensure we had the means necessary to justifiably avoid eye contact and conversation on public transportation, in elevators, and virtually anywhere else in the world at any given time, at our fingertips. If anything, I’m guiltier than most. Although I go about my excessive technology usage with respect to common courtesy, table manners, friendly door-holding, and respect for good conversation, I would be the first to admit that I personally epitomize the term – as coined by American writer and education consultant Marc Prensky – “digital native”.
Admittedly, the concept of going even one day without my cell phone or social media outlets is one with which I struggle a bit. Each (surprisingly, a handful) of the times that I’ve considered going through with it, I’ve arrived at the same cop-out of an excuse: timing. I couldn’t give up my phone on a particular day because of the “small possibility that an employer to which I submitted a job application would be calling me that day” or I couldn’t give up social media because I needed to “promote an event that one of my student organizations was hosting later that week.”
I know…pathetic.
After this handful of failed (or rather, avoided) attempts to put down my phone and log out of Facebook, I can – rather shamefully – admit that I just haven’t had the will or desire to bring myself to do it. Luckily for me, I won’t necessarily need the will or desire to “disconnect” tomorrow while some UNH students go through with the terrifying commitment. I will, however, need to muster up that very same will power on a much bigger scale come mid-June. By enrolling in an intensive “language immersion” program for the upcoming summer, I’ve made the 8-week-long pledge to forfeit all speaking, writing, reading, and yes, typing in the English language. As you can imagine, your “good luck” wishes are sincerely appreciated.
The wording on Olivia’s 748-person Facebook event page is what really caught my eye: “This may sound great to some, and really stupid to others. [The event] is totally open for you to participate (or not).” Seemingly, Olivia accounted for the more technologically-dependent resistors like myself when turning this idea into action. I must say, despite my apparent inability to take a day-long break from Snapchat stories, Instagram feeds, emails, and the like, I really do admire the idea of a “technology-free” lifestyle and I am excited to hear what it was like for the event’s participants.
It’s likely that all of us have been in that dreadful situation with a dead battery and the looming catastrophe of not knowing the exact location of your friend’s table in the dining hall. If you’ve been there in the past, it probably made you wonder, “How did our parents do this?” Well, if you’re reading this newspaper right now because you need something to distract you from your commitment to “UNH Phone Free Day”, chances are you’re wondering no more.

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