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Time to Unplug This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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The class was chaotic. All around the room, students were practically trembling, faces contorted in comic horror. Arms were thrown up into the air, as if begging for salvation, and desperate students pleaded, “How can you do this to us?!” A mere homework assignment was the cause of this commotion. But not just any homework assignment. This was one your hamster couldn’t eat, your nerdy brother couldn’t do for you, and your baby cousin couldn’t “accidentally” throw up on: No electronic devices for 24 hours. For most people, that’s a miniature eternity.

This assignment marked the end of the world as we knew and loved it. According to my classmates, at least. Some part of me thought that I was, well, superior. While my classmates were freaking out and having dramatic panic attacks, I just rolled my eyes. Wow, I thought, what whiny kids. This assignment is practically in the bag! I mean, seriously, what could be easier? I am not an addict. I can live comfortably without all these ridiculously overpriced gadgets.

After all, I’m the one who lectures others about the perils of technology overuse. This assignment was an attempt to teach this, so I had nothing to learn. (It should be noted that this sort of thinking has led to the production of egotistical bigots and pretentious wine-swiggers.)

I’m pretty ashamed, actually. You see, I wasn’t better than my classmates in this regard. In fact, I was far worse. While everyone else readily admitted their reliance on technology, I failed to see an issue. And the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it.

Here’s what happened. The day of my technology fast began with first period Biology.

“Today, we’re watching a DVD on ocean acidity. Hmm … where’s that power button?” the teacher announced, reaching for a remote. As the fluorescent lights dimmed, a row of sleepy heads lowered to their desks. Already, the back row was settling down for a mid-class nap.

I realized that this was our second video in four days. Every time some droning professor popped on screen, the students shut down like hibernating bears. Half the class used this video as an opportunity to snatch a little extra shut-eye, and the other half were too busy snickering over some obscene doodle to pay attention.

Even I found myself glazing over. By the end of the video, I pretty much learned that a) staring at a bright screen can induce nausea, b) doodling in the semi-dark is pretty darn difficult, and c) the boy sitting next to me had not brushed his teeth this morning.

Although none of that had anything to do with science, I was one of the few who actually watched the scintillating montage of melting icebergs. Maybe this school could do with an
e-media fast too, I thought. Little did I know that this was the least of my problems.

As the day pattered by, I spent a lot of time sitting on my hands, until my friend commented that hands should not resemble squashed blueberries. But as soon as I released them, they gravitated toward my cell phone. And I thought this would be easy! It was my fault for being so ridiculously blind. All this time I’d been lecturing friends, I was the one who couldn’t stop tapping and texting and watching and drooling and staring, slack-jawed and dead-eyed.

Before I knew it, I’d be one of those kids who was always attached to at least four electronic devices, a particular specimen of teenager who shuns all natural light and breeds virtual dogs, whose only real friend is a pixilated Sims character named Fred. How depressing.

I didn’t want to dwell on this troubling notion, so I flitted aimlessly about the hallways to distract myself. Among a row of lockers, I spotted a familiar bobbing ponytail. I considered going up to say hi, but I hadn’t said anything to this girl in years, besides the usual uncomfortable wave and mildly awkward shoulder brush. We chatted or texted on a weekly basis, but unless we were hidden behind a colorful username or a screen avatar, it was as if we didn’t exist to each other. I almost forgot that her name wasn’t hellokitty713. So I approached, more than a little embarrassed, and talked to her. Like actually, physically talked. She was pleasantly surprised. Later, she told me that “it was great to talk to me” and that she wished I’d “come hang out” with her more often.

She deserved an apology. I meant to say something along the lines of “I’m so sorry, please forgive me for ignoring you, I’ve been attached to my keyboard. I forgot about talking!” But instead, I wrote her a somewhat apologetic e-mail. An E-MAIL. I didn’t even know how to look someone in the eye and apologize. By this point, I was ready to throw myself down on my knees and beg for divine forgiveness.

I’d been mentally dozing for so long, I never realized my own frightening dependence on technology. Okay. I get it. It’s time to start looking at myself. It’s always great to have a heart-to-heart with yourself, to take a step back and ask what you’re doing, how you’re harming and helping yourself. All in all, I guess this experiment wasn’t actually a waste of time.

Maybe it’s time for you to wake up too. Try unplugging for a few hours, a couple of days, a whole week – maybe even move to a farm in Wyoming where the Internet is a myth. It’s not guaranteed that by unplugging we’ll instantly become deep philosophers, or experience improved relationships with friends. And it’s not a given that we’ll have more organic experiences or learn better communication skills, or that we’ll become better people.

But I can guarantee you this: a good old-fashioned laugh with your friends always beats an
LOL.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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