By Marcus Lavergne
Tablets, cell phones, laptops, and other electronics and handheld devices all seem to have one thing in common — the human species’ insatiable desire for their backlit screens and high-quality, built-in cameras. Catching up on the day’s news and social media action has become embedded in our daily routines from the moment the alarm clock goes off.
According to data collected last October by the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of U.S. adults own smartphones, up from just 35 percent in 2011. Tablet use has also experienced explosive growth from just 3 percent of adults in 2011 to 45 percent in 2015. Within the smartphone group, two demographics are nearing saturation points where almost everyone owns one. More than 80 percent of adults younger than 50 own the devices, while nearly all adults — 92 percent — have at least a cell phone.
The numbers make sense in a time where technological advances are continuously making communication across space and time more efficient. Although the “six degrees of separation” theory has long been popular, social media studies have shown that the number is shrinking. The heavily populated site Facebook found that the number of degrees was closer to four and steadily dropping back in 2011.
From a global standpoint, there’s no doubt that the digital connection between humans is more prevalent than ever before, research has shown numerous potential problems with humanity’s clingy relationship to technology.
For years, new information and observations have brought attention to the development of eye and ear health issues and sleep deprivation. One such report, released last November by Common Sense Media, found that teens ages 13-to-18 were using up more than a third of their day online.
Aside from physical health issues, some are finding that excessive technology use, especially among college students, can simply lead to a disconnect with people and the outside world. That’s where organizations like Digital Detox come in. The group partnered with the Associated Students of the University of Nevada and came to the University of Nevada, Reno, last Wednesday for a shortened, daylong version of its Camp Grounded event.
Usually, the “adult summer camp” is held for four days in the wilderness. Participants give up all technology, “work jargon” and even clocks during their stay. Students at the university were given the opportunity to unwind with live music and activities like knitting, arts and crafts and typewriting at the UNR Quad.
Jesse Rogala, also known by his camp name “Little Fish,” was part of the Camp Grounded production crew. Although the camps usually have older attendees, Rogala says college students make for great participants.
“In terms of this generation of college students, they’ve known technology their entire life,” Rogala said. “So it’s a new, almost foreign concept for them to disconnect for a while.”
According to Rogala, the event provided a unique chance for students to take a break from being students.
“We’ve had a lot of students come up and say they’ve been so stressed out from studying that this is exactly what they needed, but they didn’t know they needed it,” Rogala said. “The coolest part, in my opinion, is that you see people just having conversations, like people who wouldn’t normally talk to each other just bonding over a cup of tea.”
A number of different students showed up to camp out inbetween classes and other responsibilities. For some, like freshman Madi Keller, it was a pleasant first-time experience because a lack of distractions made it easier to connect with people she didn’t know. Keller said she would like to eventually attend the actual camp.
“[Being out here] is fine,” Keller said. “I don’t mind it. I didn’t think about it once while I was out here because I’m doing stuff I like to do, and I’m talking to people instead of just talking on the phone.”
ASUN President Caden Fabbi also took time to enjoy a break from the hustle and bustle of university and student politics and business to check out the festivities.
For Fabbi, the camp created a good opportunity to break away from the norm.
“I think it’s different,” Fabbi said. “It allows for students to use their creativity and think outside of the box of what they would normally be doing at an ASUN event. Just throughout this day, you see so many different people, who aren’t students who go to your big concerts or traditional events, coming together.”
According to Fabbi, getting away from technology for a bit was not only a relief for students, but a chance to open up to the surrounding world. For him, the facilitated human interaction was an important takeaway from the event.
“I think the whole entire theme of [Wednesday] was ‘let’s be human again,’” Fabbi said. “Let’s interact with each other and get down to what the basic core of our lives are supposed to be like without the distractions of technology.”
Although the opportunities don’t seem to be presented often after school or work, studies show that taking a break from tech isn’t only therapeutic. It can have lasting stress-relieving qualities. A 2011 study from Kansas State University showed that even as the usage of communication technology in work-related settings continues to grow, it’s important to take a mental break during non-work hours.
The researchers observed that employees recovered from job demands much more efficiently after putting down their devices and resting their brains. In today’s age, students often bear the loads of both coursework and occupational labor and for many, social media, texting, phone calls and Netflix binging take up long portions of downtime. For Rogala, the key to dealing with it all is balance.
“I think it’s having some time of the day where you take some time of the day to switch off,” Rogala said. “It’s mostly about being conscious about how much you use your technology and really making space for yourself to disconnect.”
For a generation consistently focused on self-improvement, and developing self-awareness digitally detoxing may just be another important step to leading happier, healthier lives.
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mlavergne21.