Alright, you guys. Confession time. I’m a technology addict. Like so many of my twenty-first century peers, my life has become hopelessly, utterly consumed by devices and their requisite apps and programs. On one hand, I love my technology. Like, really, really love it. My smartphone, my tablet, my computer—all of these things have helped to turn my world into a binary-powered ecstasy fun house: an endless parade of neuron-firing, dopamine-dispensing images, conversations, comments and culture. It’s a big ol’ party 24/7. The flip side? As with most addictions, this one comes with its own brand of self-sabotage. While I live for my daily information fix, I also loathe it, resenting the way that it has taken over and controlled nearly every aspect of my life. While the sweet nothings that fill my Facebook and Twitter feeds are truly benign—just friendly conversation in most cases—they tend to become grating and oppressive when taken in such large, uninhibited doses. “Oh, God. Another photo of a cat? I don’t think I can go on living.” Still, no matter how overwhelming or unhealthily bitter my relationship with my technology becomes, I cannot stop. Even the suggestion of removing myself from it seems outright ludicrous, akin to giving up food—or air. Clearly, there is a problem here.
Despite my more or less constant state of tech-mania, there have been brief glimpses of clarity—moments of reckoning, if you will. It was during these moments that I began to question my internet-addled mindset, wondering how I got to this state and what I could do to undo it. On one hand, I knew that technology—to some extent—was good. It has allowed me to meet amazing people and form wonderful, fulfilling, real-life friendships. It has given me a platform on which to express myself creatively. It has provided a way to sustain myself and earn a living. I knew that I didn’t need to eradicate technology entirely from my life nor—even in these moments of clarity—did I want to. The real question was: what made my technology go from helpful tool to unrelenting, life-draining succubus? What I needed was a middle ground: something between outright luddism and manic technophile. Little did I know that the answer was right in front of me. I just needed to travel 3,000 miles—to The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival—to find it.
I know, I know—the bro-tastic “Scenester Nightmare Hellscape” known as Coachella seems like the last place on earth anybody would experience a tech-liberation epiphany, but just go with me for a minute. Amidst all of the cacophony that took place in Indio, California this past weekend—gaggles of inebriated faux-hemian MDMA enthusiasts, fist-pumping beefcakes in Native American headdresses, the sounds of the folk-tinged Neutral Milk Hotel mingling with the club beats of Calvin Harris—I found myself in a bit of a tech-predicament. Stranded in the middle of the desert, surrounded by this mirage-like temple to the Adderall generation, my poor little smartphone struggled to maintain a signal, its battery life draining whole percentages by the minute. In an effort to conserve my battery life so that I could use it when I actually needed it, I put my phone on airplane mode. All texts, calls and data sent in my direction were temporarily placed on hold, only accessible if and when I wanted it. This teeny-tiny little gesture—turning on airplane mode— allowed me to discover something that had been evading my grasp for years. Not the concept of technological exile (something I had been toying with to no avail), but technological freedom.
Let me explain a bit. Although the so-called Information Age has been widely regarded as a time of unprecedented narcissism, with our technology functioning as conduits for the culture of Me-Me-Me, the sad fact of the matter is that our technology, at its core, allows for much more dependence than independence. It strips us of all sense of autonomy, making us subservient to any number of seemingly urgent duties: answering that e-mail, responding to that text, checking the score of the game, investigating that Twitter @reply. Even the ostensibly self-centered act of updating one’s Facebook status becomes dependent upon other people—people who we think want or need to hear about our lives. This is not freedom. This is self-inflicted codependence—and it’s not healthy. But how do we break free of these proverbial shackles? The answer, as I found, is surprisingly simple: you need to put the power of technology back in your own hands—you need to make your technology work for you and not vice versa.
I typically loathe the term “luddite” and try my hardest not to fall under that umbrella, but let us revel in some good old-fashioned ludditry for a second. Imagine life a century ago when your mailbox wasn’t in your pocket and the town square was down the road, not on the home screen of your laptop. It was during this time that there was a clear delineation between your own life and others’, a tangible line between personal volition and external intrusion. While, in previous centuries, we may have ventured to our mailbox when we were good and ready to receive messages, our present technological culture allows for (and even mandates) immediate access and immediate response. To top it off, it’s not only people who are vying for our attention, but millions of apps and bots, pinging our phones every time a news story breaks or an update is available. This is, quite frankly, unnecessary and probably way too much for a normal human being to handle. It’s no wonder that all of us feel as if we’re on the brink of insanity at any one moment! Do we really need to keep abreast of every cultural event as it unfolds in real time? Do we really need to provide our friends with a response as soon as we receive a message? For the sake of our collective sanity, can we all just agree that the answer is no?
So—how do we get to this state of technological nirvana? We can start by silencing our phones. And turning off our e-mail notifications. Or all notifications, for that matter.* You are in control of how you interact with your technology and you get to determine when and how you will use it. It’s a scary idea, I know. But try it. You might find that the feeling is not only liberating, but wildly exhilarating.
Perhaps Coachella was the perfect place for me to have this life-changing discovery. In a way, my relationship with technology up until this weekend was not unlike my relationship with the bobbling, strung-out girl in front of me at the Lorde show. When it comes at you out of nowhere, shoving and kicking you on its own terms, it can be unspeakably irritating. But when you are ready and willing to open yourself up to it, it’s pretty much A-okay. If I could remove myself from aforementioned girl’s vicinity, I could also remove myself from the burden of all my technology. Unburden yourself, dear readers. You will thank yourself later.
*Don’t worry, you can still keep them on for work or family-related purposes—I’m not that insane.