Modern day communication technologies allow us to be connected 24/7, multiple ways, by means of a single smart phone. Having a data connection, 3G or LTE, further makes it possible to immediately text, tweet, or post whatever thought comes to our minds, at any moment in time.
The thought of losing your phone would bring panic to the eyes of any of my peers. This past semester I was studying abroad in Rome and discovered that, because I didn’t have local phone data service, my phone was essentially lost to me, unless I could access a Wi-Fi signal. Streaming my thoughts instantly to a friend now needed to wait, often long enough that they later seemed irrelevant or were forgotten altogether.
Sometimes this constraint was a perfect excuse to separate from my phone, a device that was often more of an appendage than a functional device. Here I was living in Italy, trying to keep up with academics as well as explore all that I could in my limited amount of time there. It was refreshing not being tethered to an Internet connection. My new friends in Italy, like myself, had to resort to traditional communication. We were actually compelled to talk face-to-face without the distraction of social media or virtual conversations we might’ve otherwise had through our phones. When making plans we were obliged to go out on a limb and expect, or hope, nothing would change between the time we left Wi-Fi and the time we intended to convene. We had to trust that things would fall into place without perpetual contact with one another. We had to plan! Common and habitual messages such as “here” or “on my way” that we use so frequently when we have data access seemed unnecessary. I started to understand how my parents were able to survive without cellphones throughout their youth, though I do understand the uncertainty they must have experienced without this convenience.
Without data, I recognized our cultures’ over-reliance on technology to communicate. Traveling was especially pleasant due to the limited Internet access we had, but this scarcity only made it that much more appealing to seek out places with Wi-Fi. Entering a Wi-Fi zone meant immediately seeing everyone with their heads down, eyes glued to their phone screens, thumbs pattering away. Even the uneasiness I feel reflecting on this phenomenon, I was as guilty as everyone else, maybe just a more attentive observer, as well as participant.
Despite the minor hassle of communicating without data, I am truly glad I didn’t have it while living in Rome and traveling around Europe for the four months of my semester abroad. While I can appreciate the convenience data provides for communicating, I think too much time is wasted in the virtual rather than the real world.
As I returned to the constantly connected world, I am more inclined to limit time spent looking at mindless social media feeds and feel less compelled to instantly respond to a text. I look forward to physically hanging out with people rather than digitally connecting with them through Facebook. I invite friends to go to a movie instead of reading tweets about it. I make that recipe instead of pinning it on Pinterest. So my advice to my fellow Millennials, look up from the screen; don’t drown in the Internet, be where you are.