A Day Without Screens

Recently my research writing students participated in an experiment: they all went for 24 hours without digital screens. The assignment (inspired by my friend Amanda) asks students to limit their use of technology in order to promote the process of inquiry: noticing the world and asking questions about it. My students were given two options; they could choose 1992 (no email, social media, internet, GPS, texting, using phones for anything other than making actual phone calls, etc.) or 1922 (no phones, televisions, or any other screens). I asked my students to keep track of how often they were tempted to reach for their phones, and they each were required to write a short paper reflecting on their No Digital Day.

When I distributed the assignment in class, I heard a lot of muttering as students shot me dirty looks. Several students proclaimed that they would never be able to go 24 hours without their phones, and one student said he would die if he couldn’t text his friends for a day. Nevertheless, I asked them all to give it their best shot.

Despite the grumbling, the majority of my students found their No Digital Day to be extremely rewarding. They described days of socializing with friends, reading books, productively doing housework or homework, and engaging more actively with the world. One student wrote that he spent his No Digital Day playing board games with his friends; another said that she actually talked to her family at dinner instead of looking at her phone the whole time.

Although there were a few students who described their day without digital screens as inconvenient (if not pure torture), most students said that they would go screen-free again, and for longer periods of time.

As for me, the experience confirmed many of the things I’d already suspected about my own use of technology: despite my involvement in numerous social media sites, I feel more connected when I get away from Facebook and actually talk to the people I care about. I am more productive and happier when I feel like a participant in life, rather than an observer. And without the constant distraction of those screens, I am free to think my own interesting thoughts. It makes me wonder: how would we all fare if we spent less time online and more time in life?

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Tamara Holloway

Tamara Holloway

Teacher, writer, knitter, pun-hater. I would be a professional smartass if I could, but since the government is loath to support the arts, I have to do my smartassing as a freelancer. I have a Ph.D. in English from the University of Oregon – if you want to know about Tennyson, the Duke of Wellington, and Queen Victoria, I’m your gal. I enjoy educating young(ish) minds and correcting their grammar, and occasionally I write stuff.

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  • Jergrif73

    This is a common theme with people and technology that I see all of the time. However, for me, technology has been a way for me to connect more than before. Not being part of a church, having immediate extended family nearby, a social group, and being a father of four teens at one point, I found technology as the way to connect when there didn’t seem to be other means. And now, I find it even more useful in connecting with people with a “virtual reality” initiation (group messaging, Fb event invites, group emails) that become real life experiences (musicals, local concerts, group camping trips, Walking Dead potlucks, football parties, etc.) But when I am in those real life experiences, I am in them, not my phone, tablet or laptop.

    I appreciate you writing about this subject Tamara.

  • Suzy Garza Higley

    you know, i think about this often. I feel that people can lose themselves in their ‘screens’ for sure. And you have to practice restraint. As with food and alcohol and any other thing that you need to have common sense about using in moderation. But i agree with Jergrif 73. I for one have found that social media has helped me to learn to be myself all the time with all the people. it really was a process that took years and i didn’t even realize how much of myself i edited for the sake of not being understood. It has carried over into real life relationships. For the better i might add. I have reached out to many i would not have otherwise, if i couldn’t write my thoughts so freely. I know this is not the case for everyone and maybe shouldn’t be, because some people need to be edited! :/ ….but for a few of us, social media, (even though it can be all consuming and hard to balance at times) has opened a door to reach out to people that used to feel untouchable. So i guess the key is finding balance. There is good and bad in everything. I think what needs to be taught to kids is how to use it for good, and to bring out your best qualities, not your worst. 🙂 great post though!!! really good exercise for kids! i think we should try living as if there weren’t electricity for a weekend. then we would all pray in gratitude for the comfort of our lives every minute! ..but i really don’t want too. i like being warm. 🙂