A Tech-Free September: Weaning off our Digital Pacifiers – A Reflection by Allie Buist

After moving into a house in downtown Hamilton with sixteen other people, going on a ten-day canoe trip, and starting a week of “Hamontensive”, I think it would be fair to say that every single one of us has already changed from the person we were when we first walked in the door of 75 Blake Street.

One of the most significant things that we have completed so far is our month of being tech-free. These little boxes felt like a part of us, and not having them around felt like how you feel when you lose a tooth. Whenever you’re not busy or distracted, you find yourself running your tongue over this new hole. My muscle memory had me reaching into my pocket every time I was even a tiny bit bored. 

So, what did we learn from this experience? 

First of all, one of the most notable things that came from the tech fast was the time gained and spent getting to know others in the house, without the immense distraction of a phone. Would I have learned that Val’s pride and joy is gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free apple crisp? Would I have heard any of Ian’s random facts of just about anything? Would I have been able to experience Emily’s incredibly unique beatboxing skills? A resounding no. I was able to sit with these people and truly get to know them. Val mentioned that, “it was nice that I could go into a room and feel listened to, that it felt like I didn’t have to fight for attention.” Many of the other students similarly shared their feelings of being more capable to give people the attention they needed. Interactions felt more grounded without flitting between a phone and the person in front of them. Amber stated that, “the conversations we had felt more meaningful.” Instead of a house full of people who were also partially living on their phones, our rooms were full of people who were fully living in the rooms of Blake Street.

I also learned how extensively we avoid our feelings when we have these pacifiers just within reach, and so did many of my peers. With this realization, Abby shared, “I can’t continue to distract myself anymore. I just have to feel what I feel, even if it’s hard or painful.” I don’t think any of us realized the degree to which we have avoided feelings of discomfort until we embarked on this cleanse, and it was an eerie recognition of the dependence we have on our phones to regulate our feelings. Just like a baby with a soother, it’s not healthy to always need something to make our hard feelings go away.

Lastly, an important lesson I think the house and I learned was simply how to be bored. With endless entertainment fighting for your attention a click away, it can easily feel like there is never enough time in a day. However, when our devices were taken away, we learned to appreciate the extra little pockets of emptiness in our days. This boredom also allowed others to connect with parts of themselves that were somewhat dormant. Hannah appreciated the extra time, putting it towards creativity to collage or playing the piano. I found myself reflecting on the “already but not yet” -ness about the world we live in today in these times. Time had more weight, it could no longer get sucked into the vacuum of TikTok. These important yet mundane minutes were times where we could be vulnerable to being known by each other and by God, or just sitting on the porch and paying attention to the neighbourhood around us.

This month has been radical, and I wish others could experience what I have experienced here thus far. Instead, I will leave you with some thoughts that might shed light on September at 75 Blake Street.

  1. Feel your feelings. Don’t resort to your digital pacifier.
  2. Be bored. Let the emptiness of time be holy and soul-filling.
  3. Lean into inter-dependence. Our phones allow us to believe the lie that we can be fully human on our own. Let yourself rely on the unreliableness of others.
  4. Pay attention. Don’t miss every mundane yet God-filled minute of bizarreness that you get to be a witness of.
  5. Wonder. Allow yourself to not know what you don’t need to know. You’ll end up finding out more than you ever dreamed.

– Alleluia, over and out.

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