One day last January, my classroom buzzed with nervous energy as 15 teenagers prepared to lock their smartphones in a cabinet and swear off all Internet use for the next two weeks. The ceremony kicked off a class I taught called Logging Off. During the rest of the school year, I teach high school chemistry, but this mini-course gave my students and me an opportunity to examine the role of technology in our lives.
When the time came to power down, many students were eager to be free of their phones, while others clutched their devices like a favorite stuffed animal. Their emotions seemed to range from worry ("How will I talk with my friends?") to anticipation ("I can’t wait to read more books"). Personally, I hoped to clarify my own intentionally analog existence: Despite teasing from my friends and family, I still use a flip phone.
Over the next few days, the students identified a surprising source of anxiety. Without their phones, they weren’t sure what to do when there was nothing to do. That’s when it hit me: I crave the kind of time alone with my thoughts that my students feared, and without a smartphone, I’ve safeguarded its place in my life. When I allow my mind to drift, the sound of a voice on the radio, a whiff of cologne in the street, or the eyebrows of a stranger send my mind whirling down paths of association and discovery. I use these moments to replay a difficult conversation until I know where it went wrong, imagine myself living abroad, contemplate how I will feel when my parents pass away. I cycle through a lesson to find a better route to student learning; I stare at a person sitting nearby and invent the story of her life.
As we closed in on the final days of the course, I noticed a shift in the kids’ outlook. played board games with younger siblings. They experienced life in the moment instead of swiping and tapping through it.about unsettling lulls faded, and they began to talk about the beauty of time slowing down. They went for walks, composed music, and
On the last day, when I returned the devices, I expected the kids to power up immediately and go straight to social media. Instead, many of them left the classroom with screens still dark, saying they wanted to see how long they could wait.
I know the pull of the digital world is strong, but I’m hoping the brief respite from near-constant connectivity has shown my students that they have a choice in what to do in their downtime, while they’re waiting in line for coffee or walking home. I hope that between checking Snapchat and cropping selfies for Instagram, they pause long enough to seize the precious chance to daydream.
This story originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Landcruisers.