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Technology

Can You Unplug for One Day?

Dependence on a smartphone makes it tough to disconnect


A national holiday that you may not have heard of is coming up later this week: the National Day of Unplugging. The holiday, beginning on March 1, consists of a 24-hour period from sundown to sundown, to “unplug, unwind, relax and do things other than using today’s technology.”

The holiday made me think about how easy this would be. It sounded just lovely to not look at Facebook for a day and to have a meal with a friend without having our phones ding every five minutes. I thought I could even unplug the TV with all its gazillion channels. After all, I can still remember when we only had six, including two on UHF. Unplugging the TV for a day sounded simply blissful.

Remembering Early Devotion to Technology

But then my mind started drifting to all the ways I use my phone.

I used to have to remember to take my camera to a special event. Either I took my Instamatic and had to bring the film in for processing or I used the Polaroid. Now, I don’t have to remember the camera. It’s with me even for everyday events and then saved forever, with digital pictures that never fade or yellow.

As I continued pondering this upcoming “easy” day of technology fasting, I thought back to when my devotion to technology first started. It was the late ’70s when our family played video games like Pong and Pac Man, and my parents bought my older brother something called a “calculator” from Texas Instruments. It cost $100.

We could carry transistor radios in our pockets before we decided that big was better and then started carrying the biggest boom boxes we could get our hands on. We had address books, desk calendars and phones attached to the wall.

Our cars were filled with maps, some worn and folded from much use, others laminated to last a lifetime. Seeing something in the clouds meant we saw a plane, a helicopter or a hallucination. We knew the teller at the bank because we had to go there regularly. We had alarm clocks on our night tables, a phone number to check the time and temperature, an alarm system monitored by a private company and a newspaper delivered to our front porch by seven every morning.

A New Best Friend

After remembering all these things, I mulled over the thought of unplugging for a day and realized just how reliant I am on my smartphone alone. I fought it for a long time.

Many years ago, when smartphones first came out, I remember telling the salesman at the phone store to just sell me the cheapest “old lady” phone. I didn’t need all the expensive bells and whistles. I just needed to be able to make phone calls. He suggested a $35 flip phone. I told him that was fine until I spotted last year’s iPhone on display for 99 cents. Why would I buy an old flip phone for $35 when I could get a smartphone for 99 cents?

And so it began. At first, I just used it for calls. Then I learned to check my emails. Next came texting and downloading aps.

And now, my best friend is Miss (Missy) Smart Phone. We are inseparable. If I leave the house without her, I actually turn around to retrieve her no matter how far from home I am when I realize she’s not glued to me.

Since the GPS in my car is now four years old and doesn’t take current live traffic into account, I use Missy to navigate even when I know where I’m going.  Perhaps there’s been an accident or there’s construction on my usual route. How am I to know if I don’t use her?

At restaurants, I use her flashlight to read the menu and see the bill better to calculate the tip. When running errands, I Google the closest post office, grocery store or pharmacy. While driving, I use Bluetooth to call my folks and check in to save time. At the grocery store, she reads my shopping list to me so I don’t forget anything I need. I can’t remember the last time I went to the bank because Missy helps me deposit checks without leaving home. I need her.

‘We’re a Couple’

Some may laugh at me when they find out where I carry her. Several years ago, I had two wallets stolen within six months of each other. I decided to stop carrying a purse. Now I keep a twenty-dollar bill, a credit card and driver’s license on the back of my phone and stash it in the one item I know I won’t forget to wear: my bra.

That’s right, I never leave home without her, and I don’t even want to think about what a thief would have to do to get a hold of that credit card. If it were up to me, I just might have my phone implanted somewhere on my body and plug myself in at night to recharge the two of us. We’re a couple. We go nowhere without each other.

My smartphone has replaced my newspaper, TV news, camera, shelves of photo albums, games, calculator, clock, weatherman, music, address book, calendar, maps, bank, alarm system and more.

So, I’m not sure I’m ready for the National Day of Unplugging. Of course, if I can’t Google something, I still remember how to use the dictionary, a thesaurus and an encyclopedia. But I don’t think any of them could tell me where to get the closest slice with mushrooms and extra cheese.

By Leslie Handler
Leslie Handler is an award winning syndicated columnist for Senior Wire News and freelances for such publications as The Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY, HuffPost, and Purple Clover.  Her book, Rats, Mice, and Other Things You Can’t Take to the Bank, is available on Amazon. Follow her blog and read previously published essays here.  

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