Dr. Sells’s “Low Tech Weekend”

In Interpersonal Communication we have an assignment in which students describe what it’s like to unplug for a weekend. I decided to blog about the assignment because…well..you’ll see…

Class Assignment

Select a 48-hour period during which you will “unplug” from your computer-mediated communication (CMC) technology. This includes email, Facebook, interactive computer gaming (MMORPGs, etc.), texting, and chatting. You may use your cell phone for phone calls only. What was the experience like? How did your family, friends, and coworkers react? How long did you last before you became uncomfortable? What forms of communication or what activities did you replace your technology with? Write a five hundred word essay in which you reflect on your experience. In your essay discuss three significant differences between CMC and face to face communication and use your experience to illustrate your points. You must include at least three quotes from the textbook and include the page number for each quote.

My experience

My lovely Galaxy s4 suffered from a broke charger port. When I swapped out phones, setting up the new phone drained my battery life. All the chromefeature creep, 24-7 on demand mass customization, pick your poison – is energy consuming in more ways than one.

Somehow, I lost my dead phone in Jack’s car. The irony of losing my phone in a car belonging to someone named “Jack” has not gone unnoticed.

I tried six ways to Sunday to stay connected. Without a phone, how could I call people and ask them if they noticed where I left my phone? Some people are jacked in 24/7; Facebook, email, and carrier pigeon are all “pushed” to their cellphones. But Jack, I suspected, was unplugged. How to find Jack?

I unearthed an old email explaining how to use email to text to a phone. I berated myself for overlooking the app that locks down a phone from afar. I realized in a panic that if I dropped the phone in the parking lot, someone would turn my life story into a movie: Identity Theft II. Not pretty. I Googled left and right looking for some sort of teleport device. Fail, fail, fail.

Technically, I did not do this assignment. It was neither planned, nor did I completely unplug. I simply un-phoned sporadically until I got my replacement, and then I was phoneless again for one short time.

OldManSelfieIn class we say that “communication is irreversible and unrepeatable.” Irreversible means that once something is said, it cannot be taken back. You cannot un-ring a bell. Unrepeatable refers to the meaning of the message, not what is literally said. The meaning, the experience of the communication, and the performance of it are all unrepeatable.

Once the phone is out of my hand, the content (i.e., the data and messages) cannot be taken back; they are gone, out there, and infinitely repeatable. Repeatability, which is different than the book’s point, is significant. In its repetition, the content can be repurposed to the most devastatingly embarrassing effect. Someone could photoshop a Hitler mustache onto my private selfie and spread it far and wide across the web. The infinite replication and distribution of data that shuttles in between people through CMC has altered the fundamental nature of our relationships. My phone is a gateway to my bank accounts, my personal and work email, personal and work documents I store “in the cloud,” including bad photos and bad poetry I never want anyone to see. What’s said on the internet stays on the internet forever, over and over and over again, repeatedly. I hope whoever finds my phone doesn’t find my bad selfies that I didn’t get around to deleting yet. The deferral, replication, and repurposing – the very stuff of high theory – gave me nightmares all weekend.

Not only does CMC make permanent and expansive anything I put out there, it invites me to put myself out there in a whole new way. CMC takes Impression Management to a whole new level. Madison Avenue commercialized what Symbolic Interactionists have studied for years: Personal branding. I discussed “selfie” in class the other day. Facebook, selfies, blogs, CMC all have made teaching impression management supremely easy. The problem is that, as in F2F, once the data is out there, it’s gone, and I cannot control it. Hey, information wants to be free. Damn, I hope I deleted those selfies. Freeing those selfies would be a bad, bad thing. Foucaultian notions of “technologies of self” wrought large haunted me in my dreams. *shiver*

Last, interpersonal intimacy gets strengthened through self-disclosure. Intimacy deepens the more we self-disclose. In CMC, all disclosure propagates into a mass context, disturbingly, and we have limited control over the copies. Your secret is not safe with me; whoever has my phone has accessed it. Many a literary work was written about how a stolen letter or eavesdropped conversation destroyed or created a relationship. Think what my phone could do for people’s literary careers!

The most valuable lesson I learned – or relearned – is that I need to lock my phone so no one will get their hands on my selfies.

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