Unplug and Play: Disconnecting from Technology

cell phones

“Yeah, I got rid of my smartphone, I’m keeping it old-school.”

THEY SAY that the proof  is in the pudding. Well, if you’re a restaurant and you don’t serve pudding, the proof might be in your surveillance tapes.

A NYC restaurant recently took action against comments that its service was slow by posting a data-driven rant on Craigslist. They hired a firm to investigate the claims about delayed service by reviewing video footage from ten years ago and analyzing the data. Here’s what they found:

In 2004:

  • Customers on average spent 8 minutes before closing the menu to signal they were ready to order.

Average time from start to finish: 105 minutes

In 2014:

  • Total average time from when the customer was seated until they placed their orders is 21 minutes, largely because their phones were on tops of their menus and they continued to look at them, not the menu.
  • 26 out of 45 customers spent an average of 3 minutes taking photos of the food.
  • 14 out of 45 customers took pictures of each other with the food in front of them or as they were eating the food.
  • 9 out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat.
  • 27 out of 45 customers asked their waiter to take a group photo. 14 of those requested the waiter retake the photo as they were not pleased with the first one.

Average time from start to finish: 155 minutes

Basically, in a single decade we’ve gone from eating, enjoying, and experiencing our dinners to photographing them.

The publication of this kind-of-creepy but definitely informative data coincided with my own withering interest in being connected to my phone and the computer. Why? Well, for a lot of reasons. I was starting to get headaches from staring at my computer all day, my left thumb hurt from using my iPhone for everything, and I wanted to go out for a meal and not feel a greater urge to take a photo than to eat the food I was paying for. The list continues, but I’ll spare you and assume you have an inkling of the reasoning behind my desire to disconnect and unplug.

Right now I live on an island, Vancouver Island to be precise, with stretches of areas that receive no cell phone service. I still use an American phone carrier, so I’ve had to relegate my cell phone communication to WiFi for the last two months. That took a hell of a lot of adjusting, as I used my phone to occupy me in long lines, to look up reviews of items I was buying, to Google matters of life and death like “Is an avocado a fruit?” (FYI, they are), and to periodically check for any likes, reblogs, messages, or retweets I’d received. Not to mention all of the various news, travel, and entertainment apps I used, my frequent texting and phone calls with loved ones, and my handy GPS system.

I gave most of those tech luxuries up when I crossed the border, the way I usually give up everything iPhone or computer-related when I travel or trek into a no-service zone. Given my current location and the AT&T family plan I still fiercely cling to, it’s a bit easier for me to make the decision to unplug… which I now do, by choice, for as many hours of the week as I am able.

How has it worked out for me so far?

I really haven’t lost anything other than some minutes off of the average amount of time it takes me to eat a meal.

Memories from my five senses have replaced photographs (no filters, but whatever), I now make an effort to speak with other people when we’re waiting in the same lines, and I know how to get around using landmarks and street signs, not Siri. Receiving text messages and phone calls in real time is convenient, but I haven’t missed anything imperative when I’m unable to get to WiFi for a few hours. I actually create and set aside more time now than before to connect with friends and family because it’s not so frequent or immediate. With no one to text about the weird person in front of me in line at Target, I have to think about why I’m judging a stranger. If I have a question about the classification of a food item, I ask a grocery store employee or take an educated guess.

Additionally, my boyfriend is a good sport and has been adhering to the no-cellphones-at-dinner rule I established a month and a half ago. In public, it’s not so hard. Intimate seating, people-watching distractions, and a commitment to “this is date night” helps us make it through. The first time we tried it at home, though, we put on a television show for background noise, and the second and third times, we had on music. We’re just finally getting to a point where we can sit, eat our food, and just talk to one another. If that sounds laughable, I encourage you to think about the last meal you shared with your significant other or friends.

How did we get here?

There is no single, concrete answer, but our smart phones and social media appear to be at the center of this dissociation from the “real” world. Our inability to drop the load of sh*t plays its part, too. People who are unplugged and disconnected are becoming a rarity — so unusual, in fact, that news stories discussing their time away from the Internet or cell phone become topics of widespread interest and conversation. And God forbid if you’re caught out in the streets with a “features” phone — one of those basic devices with no functionality other than making calls and sending texts. I felt pulled to share about this time away from modern technologies because it still feels foreign and a bit uncomfortable for me.

I wonder if there’s a happy medium here somewhere, a way to better balance our connectivity with experience. Should we start swearing off cell phones and Internet access once a week like many people forgo meat on Meatless Mondays? Do we spray paint “LOOK UP” onto the pavement like someone did in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of DC? Does a doctor need to come out with research that tells us for certain that our cell phones are giving us cancer? What, if anything, will make us give up the constant connectivity?

I also wonder what all of this technology means for the next generation. I didn’t have or use email until 8th grade, I got my first cell phone for my 17th birthday, and my first laptop was purchased when I started undergrad. I can remember a life before the Internet and the cell phone.. .and it was a good one. Most of you can probably remember a time like that as well. But any future children of mine won’t know life without either. I’m certainly not the first person to raise this topic, but any time the conversation comes up, no one seems to have a response beyond, “you just monitor their time.” How do we do that when we can barely monitor our own?

Without our faces to the screen all the time, the world might look like a whole new place to us. Maybe we should make Tech-free Tuesdays a thing (I foresee the next big hashtag) and see if we can’t go back in time to 2004, back to when when our meals came quicker and probably tasted better, too.

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