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My Year of No Resolve

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2016-02-19


I tried one of those very popular "deprivation" tests recently, where people try to see how long they can exist without access to their favorite technological gadgets/current addictions — No Cell Phone for the Weekend, My Week Without the Internet, A Month of No Facebook, No Text Messaging After Work, My Year Without Netflix or Streaming Video, etc. The thinking goes, every once in a while you need to make sure that you're still somewhat in charge of your crazy over-reliance on modern attention-deprivers and can limit your compulsive activity if you choose to.

It's a test to prove how strong your resolve is, how capable you are of triumphing over some incredibly addictive, fetishistic urges by the sheer force of your will. And, in the process, you'll probably learn something edifying about the simple pleasures in life, and you'll feel the wholesome joy of interacting with the "real world" instead of staring at your palm all day. You'll start rhapsodizing about the good old days before technology destroyed everything, and you'll develop that condescending air that baby boomers carry when describing the simple, unfettered wonders of their childhood. (Though it should be noted that many boomers rhapsodize about this stuff in memes, on Facebook.)

Anyway, my particular "deprivation" test was to go without Facebook for a month and I lasted three days. A few days after I "deactivated" my account I discovered I needed to get in contact with a friend who I usually only speak with in messages on Facebook. Three days. I sort of shrugged my shoulders at my will and my resolve — sorry, guys, my hands are tied here — and got my account rolling again. Of course I have my friend's phone number, and I certainly could have called him and avoided Facebook altogether, and indeed, when I thought about it later, talking to my friend on the phone is always a fun experience; I miss his voice and his laugh and it's a pleasure to reacquaint myself with them. So why was I so quick to avoid talking to him, and why was I so eager to abandon my Facebook resolve?

I don't really have any good answers for this, though it's probably obvious that I didn't really care about testing my will too much to start with. It's always tempting to blame "time" for everything — my friend is busy, I'm busy, we can't have our days slowed down enough to talk on the phone — but then, I'm constantly reminded how much time I waste, everyday, with things like. . . well, like Facebook.

When I try to figure out the real answer, though, I'm reminded of something another friend of mine always says to describe his peculiar hobbies and actions: "I do these things because these are the things I do," he says, meaning, of course, that most people inevitably remain loyal to their habits, regardless of if they really understand why.

My Facebook failure surprised me a bit, for I've been harboring an anti-technology-addiction animus for quite a while, and it should have been easy for me to righteously unshackle my social media chains. Plus, I'm sort of hard-wired for the "deprivation" gig anyhow — I was raised Catholic, and all Catholics are obligated to give up something for Lent, the month-or-so time between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Catholics give something treasured up for Lent because… actually I have no idea why Catholics give something up for Lent; I'm sure it was explained to me innumerable times in my parochial education but I guess I never really paid much attention those eight years. It must symbolize something, right, maybe something in the desert? Anyway, as a kid, I just sort of accepted that every Spring you give up chocolate for a month, and that you reward yourself for your piety by devouring an entire chocolate bunny before breakfast on Easter Sunday.

What has happened to me, I think, is that I've finally, grudgingly, accepted that intrusive technology is simply a part of the world and that it's time I make my peace with it. I no longer work myself into a righteous tornado if a friend pulls a cell phone out during lunch; I also don't freak out anymore if someone else's message alert cause me to grab my own phone in public. I try not to chastise myself for irredeemable character flaws if I check my Twitter feed more than 5 times a day. Slowly but surely I've decided that I can't have an Old Testament fury against a connected world while simultaneously finding it necessary to be a part of the connected world.

If all this sounds like I'm trying to rationalize my inherent weakness and lack of resolve, well, I won't argue against the point. I'm still a little bitter that I'm not one of those "slow world" folks, who can shrug off the influences of technology and gaze at the birds and bees and stars and read all of Proust's work and hand-write letters on vellum and make all-natural meals from the garden that they are the Creator of. I can do some of this — I read a chapter of Proust, once, and I wrote a letter in 2011 — but the whole shebang? That requires a lot more resolve than I'm comfortable with.

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