Health Corner: Wi-Fi and Wellness

For the UAS Whalesong

A couple of years back I completed a pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago (a.k.a. The Way of St. James). I spent a month in Europe backpacking across northern Spain, sleeping in hostels at night, and contemplating the meaning of my life in the great space of the world.

On that journey I did have several life-changing moments of clarity, which helped me step onto my current path. But the most enriching part of that journey was the first week, when I realized that asking for the Wi-Fi password would garner me looks of puzzlement – there is no Wi-Fi in rural Spain.

I had many moments of panic that first week, how could I be safe if no one knew where I was? More realistically, how would I update my Facebook status so everyone could begrudgingly follow my adventures? When I did finally reach the realm of internet, each minute online came at a hefty price (thanks AT&T). My journey literally forced me to reevaluate my true need for connectivity.

After that first week (and $100 of international usage fees), the rest of my pilgrimage was just what it should have been – day in and day out of self-reflection and learning how to be present in the moment, walking across vast plains where feet had walked for hundreds of years, each set of feet contemplating their own meaning in their current version of the world. The trails had already been blazed for me, the hostels already accustomed to serving foreigners, and the villagers had already learned basic English – my Way had already been prepared.

I’m sharing this because two years ago the only way I was able to become disconnected and to actively engage in self-reflection was to travel thousands of miles to a remote corner of the world where Wi-Fi didn’t exist or it was prohibitively expensive for my student budget. I wish I could say that when I arrived back home I remained in a peaceful, self-reflective state; however, it wasn’t long before my addiction to technology returned.

To get a little technical, an “addiction” is a condition that results when someone engages in an activity that gives them instant pleasure, but soon becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities (work, relationships, and health). I realize that when you hear the word addiction thrown around you think of alcohol, drugs, gambling … but when reaching for your phone at a stop light or in a waiting room, while walking to class, while in bed and you should be sleeping, while out at a restaurant or at home with others, in uncomfortable social situations, in slow moments at work, on breaks, and so on … what else could that be but an interference?

In retrospect, my years with constant connectivity were years that I had the lowest self-esteem and the lowliest opinion of myself. Research has shown that social media breeds comparison, and the problem with that is everyone puts forth their very best version of themselves on social media.

To make a change, I decided to take 30 days away from Facebook; I downgraded to a flip-phone, turned the notifications off on my iPad, and tried to embrace the times of    disconnection, to let those awkward social situations sweep over me, to be present wherever I was.

As it turns out, it didn’t take long to feel the effects of being present. I would wake up feeling hopeful for the day ahead, I spent many more hours outside feeling the wind, rain, and sun on my face, and the conversations (oh the conversations!) that I had with others … I began to feel at peace and every day I had time for self-reflection.

But what’s more, I began to notice how technologically engrossed everyone around me was. When I went out to eat, I began to notice that half of the restaurant was on a smartphone, often with their partners staring off into space waiting for their company to be valued. In fact, everywhere I went it was the same dilemma, as if smartphones had become crutches, objects with which we cannot move without.

Well, I am here because I’ve paved the “Way” for you, to allow you to find your own path of peace and self-reflection. While we do live in a digital world where we are expected to remain digitally connected in education and employment, we are responsible for our own states of health and wellness. If you would be happier, healthier and more present for yourself and others with less connection to technology maybe it’s time to embark on your Way.

Withdrawal from addiction to technology is a slow, on-going process. Every day we will have to make conscientious decisions to power off our devices and build up our relationships, to make eye contact with our fellow humans and work out our rusty social skills, to eat dinner at the dining table instead of in front of the television, to hug our loved ones instead of messaging them through cyberspace. Some articles suggest setting a timer when you begin work on the computer, and then going for a walk outside, reading a paperback book, watching a play, and so on. I just say … put down the device and be present. Be well this spring!

Leave a Reply