Gil: Abstinence Is Key?

by Michelle Gil | 11/13/13 3:12pm

“Abstinence is key...the best way to not is to...not.” Such are the wise words of Principal Gold from the iconic movie “She’s the Man” (2006). But is abstaining from temptation always the best course of action? On Tuesday, my government class pledged to abstain from using cell phones, email or social media unless necessary for schoolwork for 24 hours. At first, I assumed this challenge would open my eyes to the wondrous benefits of a technology-free life. I envisioned a day free from the constant need to check my phone for text messages or scroll through a newsfeed or mindlessly jump around on Buzzfeed. I thought my productivity would skyrocket and my social interactions would magically multiply. Instead, I experienced almost the exact opposite. While I will admit that there were some positives to my day of social technology abstinence, I don’t think wholly withdrawing is the miraculous solution so many imagine it to be.

I must admit to two things. First, I knew I wouldn’t be capable of stopping myself from checking my text messages or emails without aid. So I took the comparatively weaker approach and put restraints in place — I turned my phone to airplane mode and turned off all notifications for social media apps; I logged out of my Facebook and blitz on my laptop and closed all the tabs on my browser. Second, I did not last a full 24 hours. Instead, I lasted a mere 22.5 hours, longer than some of my peers but still falling short of my goal of completing the pledge. It was actually almost worse to come so close only to fail in the 11th (or in this case, 22.5th) hour. Alas, I simply had too much work that I was putting off in my distraction of waiting for midnight — and was too bored — and so I gave in like the technology-obsessed weakling I came to discover that I am.

Indeed, all day I found that the expected productivity increase was eaten up by the time spent preoccupied by my lack of technological communication. The boredom that even a good few hours spent silently reading couldn’t fill only added to this. Like a phantom limb, I swore I could feel the buzzing of a text message, hear the soft “ping!” of an incoming blitz. I tried to get around the “only schoolwork” clause by coming up with creative ways to claim that an email check was academically-related, only to guiltily throw my hand over the screen when I realized what a charlatan I would be. Imagining my awaiting texts or Facebook messages took up more time than checking them would have taken in the first place. However, I will concede it likely did not take longer than the inevitable leap from “quickly checking a message or two” to “procrastinating for several hours by watching YouTube videos of sloths I found from a random Facebook link” typically takes. So there’s always that.

And I will say that I tried something absolutely new yesterday. After missing dinner due to a conflict, I couldn’t simply text a friend to get a meal. But instead of getting Hop-to-go and dejectedly returning to my dorm to eat alone, I simply showed up to Collis and looked for friends. Maybe it was just my luck, but a group of my friends arrived at almost the exact same time as I did and happily included me in their dinner. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised that I could successfully have a meal with friends without having to plan every last detail by group text.

In class yesterday, my professor conjectured that our feeling of boredom was merely a function of being used to having distractions so easily at hand. In the long-run, apparently, we would find other things to occupy our time. But in today’s society, I think it is more likely that we will be left feeling out of touch and uninvolved with the world around us. Ultimately, however, the professor suggested that, at the very least, we actively try to reduce our obsessive texting and Facebooking to a certain number of times a day. I could get on board with that idea, especially if it means fewer distracting sloth videos and more impromptu dinner dates with real, tangible people.