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The unplugged challenge

Grace Concelman | Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Do you remember what boredom used to feel like?

I don’t mean the kind of bored you are when you’re sitting around on a Friday night complaining that there’s nothing to do in South Bend. I mean a laptop-less, TV-less, cell phone-less kind of bored. The kind of bored you experienced as a kid on late summer evenings when entertainment consisted of a bucket of sidewalk chalk and a large cardboard box.

No, being bored in class doesn’t count, nor does being a Pitt student at last weekend’s game.

In the age of iEverything, we never have to be more than a couple of seconds away from texting a friend, checking our email or scanning the headlines. We try as hard as we can to eliminate boredom from our lives.

As the Queen of Multitasking, I avoid boredom like I avoid South Dining Hall during the dinner rush. I surf the web while I watch TV. I play solitaire while I wait in line. I turn on my iPod for walks longer than ten minutes.

I swore that I’d never be one of those girls who tries to ride her bike while talking on the phone and balancing a cup of coffee, but just last week I looked up mid-conversation to discover that I had turned into a terror on two wheels.

When I first got a smartphone, a wise friend told me that it would change the way I thought about information. He was right — for better or worse, the constant connectivity of the smartphone has changed my life. I’ve become a slave to having friends, email and the wide world of Wikipedia just a four-digit passcode away.

I didn’t realize just how addicted I had become until one day over the summer when my Dad was driving me to the airport. I looked for my phone to check into my flight and realized that I had left it at home on the kitchen table. There was no time to go back; I had to leave without it.

All day I kept checking my pockets, reaching for my phantom phone because I felt so disconnected. It wasn’t until the next day, when, Gollum-like, I greedily ripped open the FedEx package my Mom had overnighted to me, that I realized how absurd the situation was. I couldn’t even go a whole forty-eight hours without my precious phone.

I saw the truth, and it was ugly. I had become totally and completely addicted.

Last week, I decided enough was enough. I was going to break the addiction by giving up my phone, cold turkey, for three days. Am I crazy? Probably. But I was curious to see what would happen. So, on Sunday I turned off my phone at midnight and vowed to not turn it on again until Wednesday at the same time.

The result? A couple of fairly annoyed friends.

To me, it was surprisingly refreshing not to be in constant contact with everyone; I never realized how tiring it is to always be available and accounted for. But, for the people trying to reach me, it was apparently rather frustrating.

I forgot that even though I could disconnect from the world, the world would not necessarily disconnect from me. While I was happily living off the grid, other people were wondering why I was fifteen minutes late (answer: until I dug my watch out of my sock drawer on Tuesday, I didn’t know the time). They were wondering if I had figured out the answer to number four on the homework, or if I wanted to grab lunch tomorrow. Nothing was urgent, but my lack of response was inconvenient and, admittedly, a little rude. So, to the friends I ignored last week, I apologize.

Still, I highly recommend taking the unplugged challenge, perhaps with a little more advanced planning. See where the boredom, or at least relative boredom, will take you. Relax during the ten-minute breaks in your day. See what kind of creativity flows from the part of your brain that’s usually occupied with Angry Birds. You might be surprised by what you can do with a bucket of sidewalk chalk and a cardboard box.

Grace Concelman is a senior majoring in finance and philosophy. She can be reached at gconcelm@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily that of The Observer.