One of my professors had an idea for a project: for one day only, students taking The Audience in Media Communications would give up all media and write about their experience. As the committed media student that I am, I embraced the challenge with a little bit of arrogance; it shouldn’t be too difficult and I will be able to relax, I thought.
I have never been more wrong. And in fact I wonder if this challenge had been taken 20 or 30 years ago, would have the then students faced the same feelings of helplessness, loss, and confusion I did?
What I would like to say to my brilliant professor (whom I admire deeply, and all things said I kinda want to be her in my future), is that living without media takes A LOT of planning. And not the type of planning you are probably imagining such as deciding a time to have brunch in a quirky Italian restaurant in the East Village in Manhattan, or making a big announcement that you, intelligent and unique media student, are giving up the media communications sphere. The type of planning I meant was: which day can I quit media without jeopardising career prospects, or missing my deadline for the university newspaper? Do I have time to finish and submit my essays, projects and job applications? If I am in New York when I need to carry out my project, will it be a day I absolutely need some mode of communication so as to adapt my tourist activities to my hostess’ schedule? Indeed, it took heavy hours of planning and coming up with pros and cons when deciding which lousy 24 hours could I use for my university project.
I would like you to pay special attention to the way I used the word could in the previous paragraph. My main discovery regarding my life and media, even before I embarked on this media-free journey, was that I need media. Truth be told, my whole life happens in and through and because of the media. If I had to define myself as three things, I would have to say that I am an avid reader, an even more passionate writer, and lastly, a psychotic photographer. I say psychotic as there is no chance in this miserable, media-driven life that I can go out to the street and not look for a perfect image. When I take a camera with me I forget about the world spinning around me, and when I don’t, then my brain just takes mental images of places and times of day for future reference. As you can understand, media is indeed my life, both as a consumer (obviously I text, read the news, watch movies and TV shows, read books, call my mother, etc.) and as a producer (for instance, you, my dear reader, are reading a sample of media I have produced especially for you). What I want you to remember from this is how important Information Communication Technologies (ICT’s) are in your own life.
Weeks before the dreaded deadline arrived, I had been considering media in general. I knew I had to give it up, but I just did not know what media was. And this is after 4 years of obsessively studying the media industry as my Bachelor and Master degrees. Let us consider the main media I use in my daily life:
1. Internet (obvious)
2. My laptop, smart-phone, and tablet
3. The news (either in print, online or broadcast format)
5. Books (yes, the publishing industry IS part of the media industry)
6. Music (see above)
7. Social Media
8. Video-games (OK, I have the Sims on my tablet and they live very well and happily, thank you very much.)
9. Televised shows
10. Films (this can go back to the internet, but to be frank, I am a sucker for Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Before Sunrise in DVD. Rebecca is also an all-time favourite.)
So far, this is all I can think of, but notice how most of this categories are rather broad, and almost anything we do falls in either or in several one of them. Considering I am also a media producer (in that I create media texts and content) I also had to evaluate whether I was supposed to give up media production as well as consumption. I decided not. After all, this is part of my life and I love my degree but not more than my mental health. Never more than my mental health.
After I landed in New York and arrived to my friend’s apartment, she and I talked and agreed that the best day to quit all media would be 22nd February, 2015; a Sunday and coincidentally my 23rd birthday. It was also the day of the Oscar’s, and my friend loves them, so my media-free day was to end when the Oscar’s started. I decided I could watch TV but not use the internet or any media communications (this might also do with the fact that I refused to look at all the messages and e-mails I had to reply, thank you all for the birthday love!). Without further ado, these are my observations from my media-free day.
I woke up, and I cheated for a few seconds as I needed to check that the university newspaper received the e-mails I sent last night. There were no urgent e-mails, so I resisted all temptation to check my texts, my Facebook, my Instagram, my Sims, and the Financial Times and the Sunday Times and obediently set my phone and tablet to airplane mode. I don’t consider this a fail as sadly I can’t let my responsibilities fall through. I guess it says a lot about the world we live in.
Luisa wakes up and we make some coffee, we begin to get ready for brunch later on today and she suggests we listen to some music. First existential crisis: am I allowed to listen to music? We decide that if I am a passive listener, then it really isn’t my fault and I can’t do anything about it. Luisa picks the music from her phone and we listen to it blast from the portable bluetooth speakers.
One shower and one manicure later, we left the media-safe environment of Luisa’s apartment and entered the big bad media world of New York City. I decided to leave my tablet and phone behind, although I chose a small notebook and my camera as companions for the day. So far, I was alive.
My friend is rather cool, so in our walk to the restaurant we engaged in normal conversation like normal people do. However, I have to say that we wouldn’t have arrived to the hyper-busy establishment in time were it not for the wonder of Google maps. I looked away and just followed my friend. Up until then, the morning had been a little fun experiment, but it wasn’t until we had finished brunch and I had the chance to look around at the other customers in the restaurant that I noticed how we are, indeed, media cyborgs.
There was a birthday party where a gorgeous twenty-something year old woman was taking selfies with her friends; behind me two first dates, one was a clear disaster as they were staring at their respective phones whereas the second one seemed a lively success as one of them enthusiastically showed the other some photographs of a trip through the Facebook app. In the beginning both were desperately clinging to their devices, but as the conversation started to flow both phones assumed their face-down position next to their owners’ plates. In my table, the dynamics of the group we were brunching with were great. We had great chats, laughs and shared experiences, but obviously phones came out and Facebook pages checked, meals were Instagramed, and photos shown. Texts were being sent and received and although there were no awkward silences during our time together, the table vibrated as a subtle sex toy every time someone got a text or a missed call.
As we were walking back from brunch, I was already feeling rather liberated without the constant anxiety of knowing I could have been contacted and started to genuinely look around myself and enjoy Manhattan. I took a few shots, not too many. Quite frankly, they turned out great. I could see people taking selfies and sharing them online, people texting, calling, someone showing their mother how Washington Square looked like in the snow through a video call. There is media all around, and I try to ignore advertisements or free newspapers, but I start to realise that maybe Turkle was alright all along and we are, after all, living alone together in a mediated existence.
When we get back to the apartment, it is time for the Oscars. I begin to write this blog entry and here you have me, multi-tasking in my mediated life, failing at my media-free day project. I have not checked the news, my e-mails, my texts nor my social media, and I have tried to stay away from media as humanly possible. What I learnt, though, is that there is only so much I can do: I can’t avoid media unless I go to a remote location because our society is built on media. Whether I want it or not, I am a consumer. But you know what? I know media, I study it and I think I know how to interpret the messages in the texts I decode without even thinking I’m doing it. And the truth is this: I love it. I’m gonna enjoy it if you read and like my blog and my photographs, and I will respect those media producers who connect and engage us. We live in a new world where media and real life are so intertwined you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. I say we enjoy it and find a way to stare into each other’s eyes whilst we know mum can reach us if she needs to.
Happy birthday to me 🙂
Update: The morning after.
I have to admit that once the Oscars started, I gave in and fired up my phone and my tablet and let the notifications, e-mails and missed calls pile up. I began by responding to family messages and I tried to resist opening Facebook or replying to my messaged. Alas, I am one big arrogant millennial. My ex-boyfriend used to joke when I would post a picture on Instagram saying that I ‘get validation through likes!!’. It was always light-hearted, but I have to confess that the 20+ sign in my top left corner of the Facebook app made me feel slightly popular.
Then it downed me. Obviously I replied to all those messages from people that I love and love me, but my mood changed and I became slightly depressive: why was this person so superficial? I thought we were closer! Why hasn’t he messaged me? It brings back the whole idea of quality of relationships. I’m still grateful for all those who took 3 seconds to write Happy Birthday, but I wonder that the ones I genuinely should care about are those who used ‘more private’ media such as texts, WhatsApp or even the Facebook private messaging feature.
Living without media was a fun experiment, and whilst I was doing it, it seemed a hard task to accomplish. However, not checking social media seemed to be enough of a break. Maybe I will cut down my ‘media hours’, and resolve to read the news and my e-mails in the morning, check my texts after lunch, check my e-mails again before dinner, and reading a magazine or watching a film before sleep. In between… well I guess I will find out what I can do with my time!
Thanks for reading. Next up will be the final stage of the Thelma and Louise series: New York City.