Give Each Week a Tech-Free Day
"Take out the earplugs and plug into the world!" That was the message from protesters at Western Kentucky University recently who were encouraging students to reconnect with the actual world by disconnecting from their cellphones and iPods.
"It wasn't a protest against technology itself but against the way we use it today" and our overdependence on it, protester Tom Cannon explained. "The purpose is that we take charge of the technology before it takes charge of us."
It's a message that appears to be gaining traction.
Peter Whybrow, director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California-Los Angeles, calls it "electronic cocaine"-tech addictions revealed by "people checking their BlackBerrys under the table while they're on a date."
Overdependency on technology has so eroded personal time that the national chain Panera Bread cosponsored "Take Back Your Time Day" to get families to schedule time to connect and converse with each other at mealtime (whether at home or at a local Panera) with minimal wireless interruptions.
Overload. Technology's double-edged sword troubles high-tech gurus like David Levy, a professor at the Information School at the University of Washington. Last year he informally surveyed his undergraduate students; 80 percent said they felt they spent too much time online. Levy also asked a class to log its E-mail behavior. "People became aware that they were checking E-mail because they were bored or anxious," Levy says, "and sometimes found that it made them more anxious."
For his part, Levy observes a 24-hour Sabbath break each week from all things electronic. "Whether you think of this as a religious mandate or simply as a good idea," he says, "it's a piece of ancient wisdom that people can incorporate into their lives."
This story appears in the December 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.