Exactly a week ago, two students published an opinion piece in the Daily Pennsylvanian plugging (pun intended) something called Penn [Dis]Connects, which they describe as “an opportunity to pluck yourself from the web, remind yourself of the world not viewable through an Instagram lens and return with a better appreciation for the people around you.”
No, they’re not asking for tributes to the Hunger Games.
But then, how specifically would they like to provide you with such “an opportunity”?
[We] challenge you to put your computers to sleep… Get a group of your friends together and plan activities… Go to PennDisconnects.com — take the pledge, spread the word, join the movement.
That last request — to pledge online — perhaps unfairly calls to mind Rainbow Jeremy, who don’t have a telly, ain’t got no technology, he just chill at home, smoke his own homegrown, and if you don’t believe me, check out his website.
Leaving Ali G aside momentarily, the overall idea here isn’t original — it even has a trendy name: “Digital Detox.” Digital Detox can last up to a whole week — or in the case of certain residents of the third world, and less-privileged residents of the first, a lifetime — but more common manifestations last for much shorter periods.
Here’s a guy who gave up his cell phone for a day. Here’s a guy who wants you to give up your phone for a weekend. Here’s a lady who gave up her phone for a whole year. Here’s another lady who pledged to do the same just for Christmas (but what’s a holiday without cellphones, amirite?). And here’s a lady whose husband didn’t use his phone for a week, and who was quite eager to share 21 reasons why that was great (couples therapy, anyone?). Here’s a guy who didn’t bring his phone on vacation to Ireland. Here’s a website dedicated to helping others plan similar phone-free vacations. And if you can’t imagine yourself ever relaxing without a phone, here’s the functional equivalent of Digital Detox fat camp.
Here’s a scientific study of everybody in that last paragraph, and here’s a helpful Digital Detox how-to guide (I suggest you print it out before you give up access to electronics). The New York Times even wrote a trend piece about it, so you’d know there are at least three people doing it even without my extensive documentation.
So what makes this proposal different?
As I’ve shown, the overall idea isn’t fresh, but the DP article’s authors do go to great effort to offer some unique, local, value-added suggestions for what you can do all day in the vicinity of Penn — without using your phone:
[Give] each other real attention, grab a cup of coffee and look each other in the face… get together with a group of friends and just spend time with real people. Do something — go to a museum, bike by the Schuylkill, host a late-morning brunch… This isn’t an event that you show up to — it’s an experience that you create for yourself and your friends. It’s a space in time that you set aside to realize how incredible it might be to not have to respond to emails for a day.
I count somewhere between six and nine suggested activities in that excerpt, depending on how you count (and also on your counting ability). They’re all, no doubt, quite lovely ways to spend your time. But while the list is in many ways helpful and adorable, I couldn’t help but notice it’s also astonishingly incomplete.
“Well, obviously,” you might reply: there are literally infinite things you can do on this Earth — the best any author could offer is a brief sketch of some possibilities.
But I would suggest the list was left intentionally incomplete, because there’s one absent activity that’s so obvious, you have to imagine any realistic account of the proposed date would include it. What clued me in? For one thing — actually, for the only thing — the authors’ frequent repetition of the specific date chosen for the big event, scheduled two and a half whole weeks in the future:
On Saturday, April 20, we challenge you to put your computers to sleep… Get a group of your friends together and plan activities for Saturday, April 20. Come the 20th, turn off your phones and computers and spend the day together, fully-present.
Really, you expect me to believe you just happened to pick 4/20? Sounds to me like the entire article is actually a siren’s song intended to encourage you not just to put down your phone, but to pick up your phone bong. I won’t be at all surprised when the guys pushing Penn [Dis]Connects turn out to be actual pushers.
If anyone reading this is planning to participate in another week and a half, I suspect Rainbow Jeremy would be more than happy to keep you company while you [Dis]Connect.