When Enough Is Enough: Attention Generation Y

As part of Generation Y, we must explore the radical imagination; “we need to open ourselves to the possibility that the world could be radically different. We need to refuse to be conscripted to the reproduction of injustice, and we need to have the courage to trace social and personal problems to their root.”

Last week as part of a course I am taking, titled, Sociology of Change, instructed by Professor Samar Farage, I was instructed to go 72 hours without the use of my cell phone. For 72 hours I had the privilege, and yes I say the privilege, of experiencing an alternate reality. For 72 hours I went without texting, tweeting, calling, Facebook messaging, Instagram scrolling or e-mailing. The peaceful and serene silence of the non-existent vibration of my phone (although there were recurring phantom vibrations) seem now only a dream. The painful searing light emitted from the screen of the cell phone, the constant poking notifications that reminded me of the 5,000 tasks that I typically had have yet to have completed, was silenced for 72 hours. With that said, this homework assignment, was no burden for me to undertake, hence, I had the privilege of not using my cell phone for 72 hours.

As a person who has spent time exploring their Jewish roots, I have spent a handful of weekends observing Shabbat (the Sabbath) where electronics are prohibited for 24 hours. I felt relaxed without a phone, having had insight prior to the assignment through my observance.  I understood the importance of not being connected and on the go 24/7, the importance in taking the time for self reflection, and the importance in paying genuine attention to the people I care most about in my life.

By the second day of assignment, having more time to myself to think, I had a flash-back to seven year old me, strolling through the aisles of Best Buy with my father, seeking out Britney Spears new CD, “Oops!…I Did It Again”. As I walked through the store, walking aisle by aisle,  I would look up and stare in awe at the giant televisions and music players that encompassed me. As many young children are, I was fascinated by the wonders of technology. Fifteen years after the fact, I remain amazed not only with how technology has changed but even more so, with my “Oops!…I Did It Again” cohort, and how addicted and reliant on technology, Generation Y has become.

The article, ‘Wanted Time to Think’, points out the under-appreciated reality that consumer wants can and never will be satisfied. “There are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants as fast as they are satisfied.” I find this idea perplexing, consumerism is the lifeline that American society thrives on, and it does not seem to be diminishing any time soon, yet consumers act as though it will, continuously feeding into consumerism itself, staying up to date, buying the newest smart phone or whichever other gadget that we are convinced that we need in order to stay connected. If we can never truly be satisfied with consumer wants, then it is probable to believe as well that our social desires to stay constantly connected with one another may be insatiable as well. We do not have to be slaves to technology, specifically we do not have to be slaves to our phone, the world can be radically different and that is where the radical imagination comes into play.

My favorite underlying claim as to why society is a love-addict and craver of the smart-phone is due to the smart-phone being an optimal metaphor of the “perfect relationship”– “giving everything and asking for nothing in return”. I personally can not remember the last time I went a day without hearing a complaint of uneven, imbalanced “give and take” relationship, whether it be in regards to a neighbor, a colleague, a romantic partner, or friend.

Technology is not bad, however it is misused, and it is misused more often than not. The article, ‘Wanted Time to Think’, paints this picture perfectly, exploring the paradox in that we are, “losing time to look and to think at the very moment we have produced extraordinary tools for investigating the world and ourselves for sharing our findings.” With our always on the go, fast paced lives, how is it possible to take time to reflect and discover all that is at our fingertips? Alas, not many of us bother to think about this, as we are too distracted by the very tool itself, inhibiting us, debilitating us from taking time to think at all! It is evident that, “new technologies do make it remarkably efficient and easy to search for information and to collect masses of potentially relevant sources on a huge variety of topics”, however, “they can’t in and of themselves clear the space and time needed to absorb and reflect on what has been collected.”

Without my phone, I felt more creative, I had time to analyze and organize my thoughts. I would write down my “To-do List” for the day and I would check the list off as the day progressed.  My self-diagnosed horrible memory all the sudden seemed better than usual, and I was able to recall important meetings and deadlines without the on-going pinging coming from my cell phone. In the 72 hours that I was without my phone, I had the realization that frequently we are disturbed throughout our day with small minute tasks or conflicts which are then of course magnified into much larger problems, which do not necessarily exist. These minute issues that came up, as to be expected, were miraculously resolved even though I was unreachable by cell phone. As for the problems that came up that were actual problems, needing to be dealt with, they were addressed in-person, face-to-face and resolved in a considerably faster period of time than they would have otherwise been, if they had been dealt with via text message, e-mail, Facebook message, etc.

Although I thoroughly enjoy talking up my experience of going without a phone for 72 hours, there were indeed lapses where I used electronic devices, either be it my friends cell phones or my computer (which has the same capabilities as a cell phone) to connect with the virtual social world. In these moments where I caved, I remained aware of the non-emergent nature of the situations where I had a desire to use the technology.

I do not believe we can (or should) get rid of cell phones or technology over-night. I do believe that our use of electronic devices can and should be reduced significantly. I do believe that there should be influential movements created that promote the lessened use of not only cell phones but other outlets where we often participate in blatantly excessive use of social media and technology. I believe that Generation Y must be the generation that takes us back in time so that we can again remember what it’s like to be a part of a community, and take time to focus on what is real, our relationships and networks that we remain a part. When we are online and actively utilizing social media through our cell phones, we are ignoring the real social life that is occurring sometimes (if not always) right in front of our faces, the consequences of which can create an alarmingly negative impact to all parties involved.

My friends found it humorous and laughed at first when I shared the instructions of my “no-phone” assignment with them. Although finding it amusing at first, by the third day without a phone, one friend particularly was more than slightly annoyed with not easily being able to reach me, going as far as to contact my roommate (through social media) to communicate to me, through her. Further, I noticed when I would have a sudden urge to look at my phone when I was studying or completing a homework assignment, an urge that I would have otherwise pursued, wasting minutes if not hours of my time, before continuing with whatever it was that I was working on (if my phone had been readily accessible to me). What surprised me however, was that there were times that I craved to use my phone, even when I was already participating in social settings among my close friends, the same individuals who I would be connecting with through my personal use of social media.

When I was doing my homework and bored, I could easily justify to myself as to why I would want an alter-reality to distract myself from my work, however, I could not justify to myself as to why I was still craving another reality when I already was among friends. I already had enough, I was among my friends, sharing the same physical space, what more could it be that I want? It was in this realization that I have come to understand that not being satisfied with consumer wants has expanded far from the material pleasures of life, and rather has engulfed friendships, relationships and human connections. We subconsciously  tell ourselves each and every day that there is always more, that the sky’s the limit, enough is seemingly never actually enough. My course book “Taking Back Your Time”, counters this mentality, making the profound suggestion that “when you have enough, you have everything you need”. We have technologies that are constantly being created and improved, we have wants that are insatiable and a false sense of being connected with one another through a “virtual world”. What is true and what will remain, is indeed what you already have.

(Needless to say, if I had been on my phone, it would have taken me significantly longer to recall my account for the purposes of this reflection piece.)

About the Author
Shayna Friedman is the Social Media Manager at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey. A recent graduate from Penn State University where she grew the Student Supporting Israel chapter, she works towards navigating the Social Media realm, exploring what it means to be Jewish and to support Israel in America.
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