Those who identify themselves as technological determinists believe we as humans have remarkably little control over technology and the effect it has on the world. Just two months ago, I passionately denied this point of view and identified myself as a social constructivist. Perhaps it is the idea of not being in complete control of my decisions that I did not want to accept. However, after completing the challenge of going twelve hours without technology, I quickly learned that my thoughts on technological determinism were not in line with my experiences.
The fact is technology has become an integral part of day-to-day life. Truly understanding the effects and dare I say, control, that technology has on life, twelve hours without it will certainly enlighten each one of us. In the following pages, I will attempt to describe the challenges of my day without technology. Furthermore, I will attempt to interpret how my experiences relate to my relationship with technology and society. Ultimately, my purpose is to identify events which support or defy the view of technological determinism and understand the driving factors behind them.
With a career that heavily relies on technology, I reasonably challenged myself to refrain from using technology on a Sunday. What I learned was quite surprising and honestly, quite stressful. First, to appreciate the challenges I endured on this Sunday, it is crucial to know a little bit about my professional background. As a licensed mortgage loan originator, I have a fiduciary duty to all of my clients that are purchasing a home. While my career requires a large set of professional requirements, the most valuable aspect to being successful is to be available nearly 24 hours a day every day of the week.
Going into this project, I knew that refraining from using technology, specifically my phone and the computer, would prove to be challenging but at the same time I figured everyone deserves a day off every now and then…I soon learned that this would come with a cost. My Sunday morning started off much the same as any other. I woke up early to tend to my e-mails that had made their way to my inbox from potential homeowners throughout the evening. Responsibly, I made sure to reply to every e-mail, voicemail and, text message prior to 9:00AM.
Completely disconnecting from the internet and shutting down my phone was just as nerve racking as I had anticipated it to be. Knowing that this day would be a challenge for me, I had previously arranged a few things to do to keep my mind and attention away from my business. Depending on how one would define technology, someone could argue that I instantly failed to avoid the use of technology within just an hour of starting my project. My wife and I left the house in the technological wonder of a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid around 9:30AM to attend regular church services.
I recognized right away that avoiding technology entirely for twelve hours would be impossible for me to accomplish. Instead, I switched my focus to avoiding my phone, internet or computer use for the remainder of the day. My wife and I proceeded to attend church and then went to lunch. When we returned home, I decided to take each of the three dogs for a run. Normally, I opt to take one of them each day on a rotation, but it was a beautiful day and the small blinking light on my phone begging me to check my text messages, e-mails and voicemails were not within reach.
This was my first insight into a day without technology. Almost immediately I was able to find more time to do things that are more valuable to me. While I was enjoying the extra time with my beloved pets, I also recognized that as the day progressed, I was growing more and more anxious from not being able to use my phone. Little did I know that by the time I had finished taking the last four-legged child for a run, I was not the only anxious person affected by vacation from technology.
There was a storm brewing that would hinder my goal. When I returned home, my wife frantically met me at the door with her phone in hand. My managing sales supervisor had called her because he had received a few phone calls from upset potential clients. Notably, this was just five hours into my twelve hour challenge on a Sunday afternoon. Reluctantly, I took the phone from my wife and proceeded to field the onslaught of exploratory questions as to my whereabouts and reasoning for not answering my phone or promptly replying to my e-mails.
It is crucial to remember that I’m essentially self-employed, so I had no obligation to answer to a supervisor for an issue such as this but the fact that I had chosen not to use an ordinary technology such as my phone, I found myself in an awkward and rather challenging position. After taking some time to put out some proverbial fires with my sales manager and a few clients, I put my phone down and resumed my challenge of avoiding technology. Before doing so, I noticed that I had received several text messages throughout the day from friends and family.
Reflecting upon the nature of the texts as I read through them, I noticed one general recurring theme. Many of the initial text conversations had begun with an unassuming “hello” and “how are you. ” Just five or six hours after not receiving a response from me, many of the one-sided conversations had progressed to worry about my safety. At this point, I dismissed the idea that I had control when it came to technology. As I reflected on these events, I could not help but be reminded of Neil Postman.
We need to proceed with our eyes wide open so that we may use technology rather than be used by it (Postman, 1998, p. 6). Suddenly, I realized that I have been interacting with technological development in a way where technology was using me more than I was using it. By definition, social constructivism “presumes that social and cultural forces determine technical change” (Johnson & Wetmore, 2009, p. 143). On the flip side, technological determinism “is the claim that the introduction of new technologies produces direct and unalterable social changes” (Johnson & Wetmore, 2009, p. 93).
I acknowledge that refraining from technological use for twelve hours was an extremely small scale task in terms of the technology available at hand. Despite that, it was surprising how disturbed my friends, family, co-workers and clients alike had become by my avoidance of a phone. “Technological change creates winners and losers” (Harris, 2012). These disturbances certainly support this idea, and I would argue that this is at the foundation of the technological determinism theory. The introduction of the smartphone into my personal and professional life has set an expectation which has had a direct and unalterable affect.
While this reliance on the phone may put me on the loser side of this equation, my clients are certainly on the winning side. My choice of career has brought new technology into my life that may have not been necessary with different decisions on my part. In closing, I should repeat that the main point of this paper and this experiment was to describe the challenges of a day without technology while interpreting my experiences in terms of the relationship between technology and society at a personal level.
My experience with this project may have been more extreme than others given the expectations of my profession. However, by the end of my unsuccessful day without technology, it was clear that the technologies I have brought into my own life on a personal and professional level unmistakably dictates how I interact with the world and more importantly, how the outside world expects me to interact with it.
Courtney from Study Moose
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