College student survives 90 day “Amish Project” without technology

This is a news story that could only be written in our times: a University of Wisconsin-Madison student voluntarily unplugged from all media for 90 days and lived to tell about it. Here is a quick description of his “Amish Project”:

From October to December, he unplugged from social media, email, texts, and cell phones because he felt that we spend more quality time with gadgets and keyboards than we do with the people we really care about.

During his social experiment, he found that some people he counted among his close friends really weren’t that close after all. He also discovered that taking a break from his relationship with social media and really paying attention to the people around him can revive real-life romance.

And a few short thoughts from the student about his experiences:

[on getting started] I mean, I struggle with that because everyone wants to know about it, and wants to know how different it is. It’s hard, because I was just going to turn off my phone at first. That was the thing that bothered me most, but I realized that if I turned off the phone, people were just going to email me all the time or send me a million Facebook messages. It’s kind of a hard thing, because we’re getting to the point where if you’re not responding to people’s text messages within an hour of when they send them, or within a day for emails, it’s just socially unacceptable. It’s been hard for me since I’ve been back. I’ve been bad with my phone and people are, like, “What the hell? I text messaged you…” So I haven’t been up to social standards in terms of responding and people don’t really understand that, I guess…

[on finishing the project and returning to technology] It’s definitely different, but I catch myself doing exactly what I hated. Someone is talking to me and I’m half-listening and reading a text under the table. For me, it’s trying to be more aware of it. It kind of evolved from being about technology to more of just living in the moment. I think that’s what my biggest thing is: There’s not so much chasing for me now. I’m here now, and let’s just enjoy this. You can be comfortable with yourself and not have to go to the crutch of your phone. For me, that’s more what I will take away from this.

A few thoughts:

1. The author concludes that this means “texts and Facebook wall posts can serve as an attractive veneer making relationships seem more genuine than they really are.” I wonder how many people feel this way and if many do, do they simply keep going along out of habit or because of social pressure?

2. It seems like a lot of things that there possible for this student without technology might be much more difficult for the average adult. At college, it is much easier to find people, run into others, and pass notes, even on a big campus like UW-Madison. Could the average adult who lives alone and commutes to work make this work? Perhaps the key here is living near or very close to people one cares about.

3. What if it becomes “cool” to unplug from technology or turns into a status symbol rather than a reasoned choice about paying more attention to the people that mater?

4. I find the set-up to stories like these to be humorous: how in the world could people have survived without the technology we have today?!? Somehow they managed. The comparison here to the Amish is funny as well – there is a whole lifestyle associated with this that this college student isn’t truly considering.

5. This story presents a contrast between “authentic/real” relationships versus “superficial” relationships. Is it really that easy to categorize relationships? Research suggests most people use technology like Facebook to try to maintain a connection between people they already know – is that necessarily so bad? Perhaps it does detract from the present but it also makes us more aware of our broader social networks.