Can you give up technology for a while and focus?

02 Sep

Jerry Del Colliano (Photo courtesy of his website)

My how things have changed for many of us.

The phone used to be a utilitarian device hanging on the wall or sitting on a desk, not an electronic gizmo in our pocket or hanging from our belt.

If we wanted to listen to music, we either turned on the radio, played the phonograph or popped an 8-track tape (or later a cassette or CD) into a player. You didn’t have an iPod with pre-recorded music files on it.

If we wanted to send somebody a note back in the dark ages, a pen, paper, stamp and envelope were required. There was no texting by cellular phone or e-mailing of messages.

In many ways I think many of us are slaves to the technology that was created to make our lives easier.

We feel naked if we don’t have our cell phone at our side. We check our e-mail often and feel that incoming messages require an immediate response.

We choose hotels while on vacation not only for their cleanliness and cost, but based on whether or not they have free Internet service for our laptop computer.

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to put away all the digital stuff for a while and take a vacation without it?

I subscribe to a free, daily, e-mail column called “Inside Music Media” ( and written by Jerry Del Colliano, a broadcast and new media advisor, professor and broadcaster.

As a former full-time radio newsman, I’m mainly interested in what he has to report about trends, good and bad, in radio. But he covers other interesting topics as well, including technology.

Jerry Del Colliano recently wrote of a New York Times article that studied what happened when a group of five scientists spent a week in late May in a remote area of southern Utah, rafting the San Juan River, camping on its banks and hiking its canyons — without their mobile devices. Cell phones did not get a signal, and there was no Internet or e-mail access. I’m going to share some of Jerry’s column, with his permission.

“This trip was an unscientific beginning to what I believe is going to be required research in the future on how heavy use of digital devices and other technology affects our brains,” Jerry writes.

The scientists — some were believers and some were skeptics — wanted to know, writes Jerry, if heavy technology use inhibits deep thought and causes anxiety, and if getting away from being connected can help.

“There is no doubt in my mind, after observing young students at USC, that depriving them of mobile connectivity causes extreme anxiety,” Jerry notes. “Young people often sleep with their phones, waking up to respond to text messages at times and then returning to sleep even if that sleep is of poor quality.

“Students are smart. At the peak of their learning ability. Yet many are tired and, as students in bygone eras did, turn to caffeine to stay awake.”

Jerry points out that a study of the impact of heavy digital use on the brain is the focus of the National Institutes of Health, which now has a division to support studies of the parts of the brain involved with focus.

“All of us, from the content providers to the end users, are experiencing increasing anxiety from digital overload,” Jerry believes. “How simple and perhaps therapeutic it was to only have a radio to listen to on the way to school or work. Now, we text while driving, get the traffic and weather from our phones, check e-mail and other things while making the same commute.”

As for the vacationing scientists in Utah, they experienced a form of withdrawal — “Third Day Syndrome” — that ended on their third day.

Writes Jerry: “I recently experienced some of this myself on vacation at the beach. Those first few days were brutal. I sat there looking at the ocean, doing everything I usually do at a desk with digital devices nearby. What a waste of a view.”

Here are some observations, courtesy of Jerry’s “Inside Music Media,” regarding the Utah digital experiment:

“1. At least one scientist arrived at the conclusion that he may be turning to his cell phone in moments of boredom. You and I may experience the same thing. I am wearing out my pockets pulling my iPhone out and pushing it back in. Am I bored? Students told me they liked to hold their cell phones in their hands. Made them feel better — more connected as they could glance down for messages and respond in kind.

“2. Sometimes the cell phone was used so the user could be anti-social. That’s interesting, as mobile devices allow us to be connected by Facebook and Twitter to other ‘friends’ who are not in our company. Could we be shortchanging those around us?

“3. It was observed that clear thoughts were the benefit of getting away to enjoy nature without the use of digital devices.

“4. One scientist said he could now understand why teenagers decided to text while driving, even putting themselves and others in danger.

“5. Maybe digital stimulation leads to poor decision-making. Ever since I have owned my iPad and used it to read books at night, I have been getting lousy sleep. I Googled the phenomenon to find that others are having the same problem. Turns out the light emitted from the brilliant iPad screen, even at the lowest settings, disrupts sleep patterns. I went cold turkey for two weeks with better results. Now I ordered a Kindle for late night reading, as much as I like the iPad better. Kindle digital ‘paper’ does not produce the overstimulation of the iPad.

“6. Most wanted to eliminate the digital overload to the point of seeing an improvement but not necessarily beyond. This may be the most interesting side effect of all. I, too, want as much digital stimulation (as possible) in my life without getting brain weary, sleep deprived, rude to others or distracted.”

Jerry writes that, in the end, consumers will have to learn to manage their digital lives better than they do now. He’s right, of course. Now excuse me while I go and check my e-mail.

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This was submitted as a column to “The North Scott Press,” Eldridge, Iowa.

1 Comment

Posted by on September 2, 2010 in Uncategorized


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One response to “Can you give up technology for a while and focus?

  1. Matt Kelley

    September 29, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Great points, Phil. I reluctantly just bought my first cell phone this week. I just really don’t need (or want) to be that well-connected, but finally gave in, after having a wreck on my bike, 9 miles from home. Now, I’ll have it for emergencies.

    Funny you mention putting pen to paper & writing letters. I have a nephew who’s just joined the Marines. He’s allowed no electronic devices at all — no cell, no laptop, zip — and our only means of communication? Yep. We can all exchange letters. My hand & fingers are rebelling though… Ow!


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