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The challenge of taking a break from media

beach photo
I also remember spending time at the beach — not long enough, but vivid all the same. The tactile experience of being on the beach, in the sand, and then bringing the sand home, inadvertently, in my shoes.

My first experience with a media-break assignment was as an undergraduate at St. Olaf College. The assignment asks the student to spend 24 hours without media — no print, broadcast or online media, which can be expanded to include all printed text and music as well. When I first attempted the media break assignment, I failed to complete it successfully. Now, as an assistant professor of communication at a small liberal arts college in the southeastern United States, I like to assign the media break to my students as well. Whenever my students attempt the media break, I attempt it along with them. I also like to attempt the media break on my own, when school is not in session. This essay presents my most recent attempt.

In early October, during fall break, I traveled with my partner, Jennifer, to Wilmington, N.C. We only stayed for one night, but I deliberately chose not to bring my laptop and made a conscious effort to unplug from technology. As we drove into Wilmington, there was a manhunt for an individual who was on the loose, and it was rather alarming to see armed SWAT team members on the side of the road, with their guns pointed toward a wooded area. The weather was cloudy, but Jennifer and I were happy to make it into town, find our hotel and get settled into our room. 

I sprawled out on the bed and let my mind wander — technological disconnection allows my mind to recharge and provides a kind of freshness to my way of thinking. The fact that I don't quite remember what I was thinking about in this moment of respite is comforting; I view it as an opportunity, however briefly, to embrace the void.

Vivid, tactile experiences

Jennifer and I ate dinner at the Texas Roadhouse, the closest good restaurant we could find, and we sat in a booth that was located right next to the booth of a man who seemed to be a regular — he had an endless stream of waitresses coming to talk and joke and flirt with him. Jennifer and I felt a bit annoyed, but mostly we felt sorry for the waitresses, and we hoped the man was a generous tipper. I am drawn to writing about food because the practice of eating seems, to me, to be as much about personal, social and cultural connection as it is about nourishment. Accordingly, I am not at all surprised that the dinner is a vivid memory from my media break. I also remember spending time at the beach — not long enough, but vivid all the same. The tactile experience of being on the beach, in the sand, and then bringing the sand home, inadvertently, in my shoes.

The break was short, and I yet again failed to go an entire 24 hours without media. But the experience was meaningful nonetheless. I experienced disconnection from the technological and reconnection to and with the earth as terra firma. To move away from technology for a brief time, and with a sense of purpose, was, for me, the pursuit of recalibration.

Never entirely disconnected

In my academic life, I frequently consider the processes of connection and disconnection as central to our networked culture. The process of disconnection was, in my case, carefully constructed. I chose not to bring my laptop on our trip, but Jennifer did have her Internet-enabled phone. While I chose not to use it, the presence of the phone was a luxury — if I would have chosen connection, the opportunity would have been there for me. Admittedly, I brought my cell phone on the trip to Wilmington; however, I used it only to make a few brief voice calls. Even in pursuit of disconnection, I know that I was never entirely disconnected.

Peter Joseph Gloviczki, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in mass communication at the University of Minnesota. He is an assistant professor of communication at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C. Visit him online or follow him (@petergloviczki) on Twitter.

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