Let me start by saying that I love my iPhone! I have since I got my first one. It is sleek and elegant. It feels good in my hand and is comfortable in my pocket. I take it with me everywhere. It connects me to the world that I have created, both family and friends around me but around the globe. It lets me easily stay in touch, providing a strong sense of personal significance in my larger community.
That being said, I have to confess to an increasing addiction to what it offers. I check my phone all the time. Did I miss something? What if someone wants me for something and I don’t respond in time? What if I am needed and don’t know it? The little voice in the back of my head, or more disturbingly the unsolicited impulse, makes me quickly press the button and check. Often, I am largely unaware that I have made the choice to do it. I close my laptop and look at my phone. I walk to my car; check my phone. I go to the bathroom; check my phone. All day long, I do it.
Last weekend, I decided to “unplug,” to try and get as far away from my digital world as I could. I didn’t do it completely, but I decided to start making some significant choices about the times and places when I connected. When I made the decision, it didn’t seem like a Big Deal. I know lots of people who post that they are unplugging, and I didn’t really expect the full-on battle in which I was about to engage. I thought I had control over my use of technology. As someone who believes in its benefits, I considered myself an aware consumer.
Boy, was I in for a surprise!
After checking my email in the morning, and basically clearly out all of the Junk Mail, I closed my laptop and went to pick up my phone before heading out to do some chores around the house. I stopped myself. There was no reason to have my phone on me. I wasn’t going to check it for email until late afternoon. Facebook and Twitter were not going to be part of the day. I was unplugging…remember. So I left it behind, not without a bit of a tug. I was used to it being on me, connecting me.
As the day went on, I had to constantly make choices, far more than I had anticipated. My phone didn’t go between the seats in the car; it stayed in my bag. My phone didn’t come upstairs with me to load the washing machine; it stayed on the counter. It simply stayed put; it didn’t travel to every space in my world. Over and over, I had to consciously make the decision to not pick it up. I was amazed at how often it happened. It took real discipline, especially the first day or two.
The downside of it was that I did miss some emails that I should have answered sooner – one about a conference presentation and one about a collaboration. I wish that I had responded sooner, BUT both were repairable and the lessons that I am learning are worth this.
What is abundantly apparent is just how distracting and compelling being connected is. It isn’t the technology; it is the community. It is feeling like you are part of something that matters and that gives you validation.
The takeaway for me is that this is the world that my students have been born into. Of course they move from page to page, screen to screen before, during and after a lesson. The need to belong is even stronger in a middle school student than it is for me. I want to think about ways to acknowledge this in my classroom and help them gain control over the impulses. They will never want to truly disconnect, as it is the vehicle that they have always used to belong, but it might be possible to help them gain more control over when and how they use it.