October 15, 2021 | OPINION | By Emma McDermott | Illustration by Sierra Romero

On Oct. 4, we were lucky enough, I think, to be given a few hours without Facebook and Instagram. It’s not often that events of this nature happen in urban parts of the developed world, but it’s something for which I argue we should be grateful. 

Rarely are we totally disconnected –– though the outage last week was by no means a total disconnection –– and while that feeling of uncertainty can be scary, it can also be freeing. 

There’s something liberating about going off the grid; we’ve all had this experience of being able to breathe a little deeper when we’re disconnected from the digital world. Maybe it’s the certain knowledge that you can’t be bothered. Maybe it’s being relieved of the pressure to respond to that text you’ve been avoiding. Maybe it’s just a chance for your eyes to rest. 

Whatever it is, a break from technology is one of the best things in a world dominated by it.

First, the fact that I thought these several hours of outage were worthy of an article is telling; it speaks to the chokehold technology and social media have on our lives, and to our taking it for granted. 

Additionally, the widespread panic and inconveniences resulting from this outage suggest that technology and social media are like what the stuffed animals we cuddled at night used to be –– sources of comfort and safety. When this happened, I don’t know.

This might not be a common experience, but sometimes I kind of enjoy my phone running out of battery.  Unless I need to be contactable, it’s kind of nice to not even have the option of going on it. Yeah, I might be irked that I’m out of the loop or can’t check the score of a game or play a song on repeat, but it forces me to pick my head up. 

Not only am I wildly unproductive with my phone beside me, I’m also less present, both physically and mentally; my phone will light up, and after two minutes I’ll indulge in the urge to check it. It takes me probably two times as long to finish a given task when my cell’s –– there, I just checked it again –– in my pocket.

People underestimate the blissful, pre-iPhone activity of people watching. Seriously, it’s good stuff — like at an airport. There are tons of characters there. It’s kind of rejuvenating and entertaining to sit back with a latte and take in the bustle: the dad that panics when the kids start crying for their mom, who ran to the bathroom before boarding, the little carts that make that unbearable beeping noise shuttling folks to their gate, the people who take themselves too seriously and dress in anything nicer than sweats and a hoodie.

But you probably –– my phone just buzzed –– won’t notice these people, oddballs and all, if you’ve got your neck craned like a goose about to grab a fish in Snapchat or YikYak. That’s why, I think, this outage, though limited in scope, was good for us. It forced us into our physical surroundings in a manner more intimate than technology otherwise allows us.

Take block breaks or Priddy trips, for example. No Canvas notifications. No emails from Maggie Santos saying you’ve been contact traced. No “screen time average” updates. You’re gone. In another world. Of course you’ll return in a few days and post those obligatory pictures, but there’s something to be said for that time away.

Growing up, I experienced power outages most summers, sometimes lasting five or six days, and even those seemed more manageable than the half-day we endured without Facebook and Instagram. To be clear, these power outages were full-on blackouts; my siblings and I would run around with headlamps on, my mom would caution tape the fridge shut to conserve the cold air, and we’d charge our portable DVD player at Ruby Tuesday, miraculously but also in typical Ruby Tuesday-style, the only place in town with power.

If an outage of that scale happened here, now, I think people would go ballistic. Think of how many people take notes on their laptop, or respond to emails all day, or need Wi-Fi to connect to the printers. Our daily lives would be upheaved, I think, and while that frustration might be valid, it might awaken us to our reliance on the technological world.

Look, I know the technological age is just dawning, and social media is here to stay. And that’s not necessarily bad; I think it would be foolish to so carelessly dispose of such human genius. But I do think that a break, every –– buzz –– so often, is healthy and grounding.

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