On the first day of class when I heard we had to embark on this journey to a faraway world in which no media existed for twenty-four hours, I am pretty sure my mouth dropped open a little bit. As I listened to the seemingly never-ending “do-not” list consisting of television, Internet, text messages, phone calls, video chats, emails, radio, and even books, I could not figure out how I would spend my time. Still, I needed to choose my twenty-four media-free hours wisely.
At first, I wanted to take on the challenge from 7 A.M. on Thursday, January 26, 2012 until Friday at 7 A.M. The problem was I had three classes on Thursday, none of which I completed readings for, so I decided to finish those up quickly, get one last glimpse of my Gmail inbox, and then begin my twenty-four hours without media a few hours later. When the clock struck 10 A.M. that Thursday morning, my media-free boat officially set sail, with me as the captain and only crewmember on it.
I told myself I had to grab my watch before leaving the house and commuting to school, so that I could avoid relying on my phone for the time, but I was running late and forgot it on my dresser. I would have kept my phone at home, as that was my original plan to lessen the temptations of replying back to text messages and emails, but my mom told me it would be better to just keep it with me, in case of emergency. I had it tucked away safely in my coat pocket, free of fingerprints.
My twenty-minute commute to New Brunswick from Somerville was a silent one. I had no CDs playing and no “Mike and Mike in the Morning.” That was not too hard for me, though. It was a short drive, and I am not on any one road for too long that I would get so bored and require some sound ringing in my ears to get me through the tortuous twenty minutes. I parked my car in the lot behind Au Bon Pain and walked over to my first class. I use a pencil and a notebook for note-taking every day, so class felt the same as usual. I got there a few minutes early and usually just fiddle with my phone until the professor walks in, but that morning, I did not have that option. Instead I just watched everyone else fiddle with their phones and surf the web on their laptops. Again, that was only five to ten minutes, so it was not a big deal.
The following class was just twenty minutes later and a good seven-minute walk away, so I made my way on foot against the cold winds down George Street. I had readings for this class which I printed out prior to my media-free day and needed to refer to them during the discussion, so I indeed ended up looking at print. The real challenge would begin at 2:30, when I had a three-hour gap before my next class, readings already completed, and no computers or phone to play with.
I walked towards the Student Center on College Avenue and found one of my friends walking out the door. She, like I, had nothing to do except for some serious catching up with an old friend. We sat in the Student Center and just talked—about our current classes, reminiscent high school memories, and future plans. I explained this assignment I was working on, trying to avoid media, but I could not make out her impression of the task. She looked through my phone’s applications to see if there were any she should download, but found none of mine intriguing, igniting inside of me a kind of defense. We picked up “The Daily Targum,” and I realized I could not read it, so I threw it inside of my backpack, only to look at the headlines the following Friday morning when my twenty-four hours would be up.
My friend came with me to Douglass Campus; she was a very generous timekeeper. Running into her was a definite high-point in my day. She left me around 4:50 P.M., 45 minutes before my last class, in the Douglass Campus Center to head back to her place on Busch before it got dark. I cannot thank her enough for her company on that Thursday afternoon. The second she walked away, the challenge instantly got harder. Everyone, every single person on the second floor of the Douglas Campus Center, was either on their laptop, on the phone, listening to their iPod, or doing all three things at once. One kid was reading my favorite book, The Hunger Games, and I just felt this horrible longing. I looked over the notes I took for my final class of the day to give myself something to do, in case my professor would catch me off guard and ask me a question on the reading. I ended up looking at my phone’s lock screen a few times during that period, only to see the time and avoid tardiness for my class.
When it was time, I walked over to Hickman Hall for my final class of the week. My professor had us listen to audio clips and read translations on his laptop’s projected screen. When class ended, my friends and I walked over to the bus stop, and I found myself out of a comfortable talking zone with them on a crowded F, with no phone providing me a safe haven from awkward eye contact with the dozens of kids I did not know. That was the worst part—sitting on a crowded bus and having nowhere to look except your phoneless hands. It was too dark to look out the window, and if I looked anywhere else, I was rudely staring at a random student’s backpack, shoe, or face. When the bus finally pulled up to our stop, my friend and I walked to our cars behind Au Bon Pain, and again I drove home in silence. I reflected on my media-free day so far.
I arrived home, tired and hungry. I washed up, ate lasagna for dinner, and went to bed earlier than usual. I figured when it was time to wake up the following morning, the first part of my assignment would be complete. Before I awoke, my subconscious life slipped up and broke the rules of the assignment. I had two dreams in which I was texting because I thought the twenty-four hours were over before they were really over. Then I actually awoke from my slumber at 10:25 A.M. on Friday, January 27, 2012, adding an extra twenty-five minutes of being media-free to my unwritten record.
I grabbed my phone and responded to all the texts and emails I had. My mom texted me Friday morning, asking if I was glued to my phone now that the twenty-four hours were up, and I responded that I was. She found it refreshing to see my hands free of my phone the night before, but knew it would not last—nor could it last. I realized that one of the things I love most about living in today’s world is the ability we have to be in constant communication with our loved ones. I do not use texting and phone calls to replace meeting up with friends and family face-to-face; rather, I allow it to enhance my relationship with them. I felt extremely distant from anyone who I did not see on Thursday and found that to be really weird and uncomfortable. I do rely on media very much, as I observed my peers do too, and I do not feel shame in that. It is the way my generation has grown up, lives, and functions. I can hold up a conversation perfectly well when I want to in person, as well as via text messages and emails. As we discussed in class, Johannes Gutenberg’s development of the printing press started the snowballing of mediated communication. Perhaps without him, our options to instantly converse with people across the street, town, and globe would not be as easily accessible as they are today.