Mobile computing is one of the most influential phenomena to hit the average consumer. It increased the efficiency of workflow across almost every profession, drastically affected how information is spread and permanently changed how society interacts with one another.
Smartphones and all of their miraculous features also are a perfect way to waste spare seconds of the day. Interacting with bits of news, pop culture and other curated content on social media can distract from moments of mundanity that can plague anything from a 30-minute lunch break to a lazy Sunday afternoon.
In recent years the answer to whether this is a good thing has become divisive.
As society at large moves toward a quicker, more connected future, many have begun to look back longingly at the simpler times of mobile communication and wonder if all these screens are just too much.
In what could very well be cited as a case of dripping irony, a National Day of Unplugging garnered a large online following after a Jewish organization called Reboot founded the unofficial holiday in 2010.
For the 10th annual National Day of Unplugging over 100,000 people took the pledge to neglect their beloved wireless devices for a grueling 24 hours. Reboot recorded 1,000 “unplugged events” and provided approximately 75,000 cellphone bags for the March 1 to March 2 stretch, marking resounding success for their promotion of traditional Jewish values. When March 3 rolled around gung-ho unpluggers plugged back in, posted crucial evidence of their unplugged-ness to their favorite social media apps and began the first of the 364 “plugged” days till the next cellphone-free day.
So, what does this say? On one hand over 100,000 individuals took the time to do some very rewarding things. They did what everyone wants to do; they afforded themselves the opportunities to connect in more tangible ways with their immediate surroundings, set aside time for important introspection and generally practiced all-important self-discipline.
Perhaps many will carry these lessons with them into the rest of their year, but then again many illustrated the essential duality of the trendiness of unplugging. Unpluggers not only congregated solely through the connective power of the web and mobile devices but they use their devices to celebrate the fact that they didn’t use said devices for a whole 24 hours. A modern smartphone user knows both truths: Mobile computing is an essential utility for navigating a modern social life AND we often abuse it.
One would think the balanced approach would be a simple matter of downgrading one’s mobile device and relegating all web surfing to laptops and desktops. But this simply isn’t alluring.
A representative from a Lansing Sprint store reports that flip phone sales account for a portion of the store’s total sales that is hardly worth mention. “We carry just one non-smartphone, the flip phone, and we really only sell one of those per month, max.” It’s not hard to see why. Just about any smartphone on the market crams so much utility into its tiny frame that downgrading would involve more complexity than simplification (i.e., get ready to buy a GPS unit).
There is no one solution when it comes to managing one’s polarizing thoughts on smartphone reliance. Some people do make the jump and ditch the slick screens for clunky keys. Back in December 2018, a Wired writer outlined his year-long experiment in downgrading, taking a nuanced look at his and other people’s love-hate relationship with smart tech. He described feelings of both insanity and mental sharpening, landing on the conclusion that our dependency on personal devices was ultimately necessary and requires self-discipline to achieve.
So, are we unplugging? No, not by a long shot. But we don’t have to; highly accessible tech has brought an undeniable ease to our lives. You don’t just throw something like that away, you gain the self-discipline necessary to know when to use it and when to unplug.