In the late eighties up until a few years ago, MTV used to have a special called “Unplugged.” This was a series where a wide range popular artists such as Jay Z, Alicia Keys, Katy Perry, Lil Wayne, KISS, and Nirvana among many others performed without electronically amplified instruments such as guitars or keyboards. These performances were sometimes ways for songs to be rearranged and reimagined, and the popularity of these shows often led to artists releasing the concerts on CDs. But often these reworkings of popular songs often slowed down the pace, rhythm, and volume of the songs, and that is what I want to blog about today: unplugging.
Myself included, very few of us take a moment to unplug, or to put away our technology, especially our smartphones. While I admit that when I have a free moment or am waiting for another meeting to start, I will try to catch up on email, texts, or tweets. And I have been guilty while sitting in meetings of stealing glances of my phone to see who is trying to reach me or what the latest AP alert is. Worse yet, I might even leave the phone face up so that I can furtively see what is coming across the screen while still trying to give someone my attention.
This is wrong.
Unfortunately, though, we have come to a tacit understanding as a society that this is acceptable. Aside from this being an issue of respect—one where we don’t convey to someone that they have our full attention and our interest, that we value them as a person—I worry about the message we are sending to our students as well. And I am guilty of this too.
When we were in high school, we didn’t have these issues. Technology didn’t pervade our lives to the degree that it does now. There was no Twitter, no Fitbit, no iPhone. For example, if you had to use the phone, you had to wait for someone in your family to get off the phone as your household likely had a landline—however, if you were lucky enough, you had a cordless phone and were able to sneak off to your bedroom to have some privacy while on the phone. We almost can’t even fathom now what that kind of life was like! But this is not groundbreaking stuff that I am mentioning. The point is that growing up “unplugged” for us meant that we had downtime: we had moments and time where we were able to process and make meaning of what had occurred over the course of the day. Unfortunately, I worry that our students today aren’t unplugging long enough to do the same; this is a natural and much-needed part of adolescence that helps them develop into productive, reflective, and grounded people. Moreover, because almost all students have some type of portable technology, they are closing their bedroom door and are up until 2:00 a.m. on Twitter or just gaming. The result? Sleep deprived students. As high school students, they need 9 ½ hours of sleep a night. Even with Loudoun’s progressive start-time of 8:55, many students are not getting enough sleep because of technology.
Similarly, I recently watched a video which was making the rounds on Facebook that you probably have already seen. It was Simon Sinek talking about millennials. Although there was a lot going on in his interview, the part that struck me was his description of how people are addicted to technology. He claims that the rush of seeing an alert about a text message or Tweet is the same dopamine release that gamblers or other addicts feel and actively pursue to greater ends to maintain that feeling. I haven’t researched this further to see what kind of merit there is to this claim, but at the very least, all of this should give us pause to determine what kind of downtime there is in our lives, and how we can slow down the pace, rhythm, and volume in our students’ lives.