At precisely 8 a.m. every morning, my cell phone erupts in a frenzy of bells and whistles, signifying a brand new day. After several attempts over the course of an hour, the little buzzer that could finally gets me rolling out of bed and into my desk chair. It’s like clockwork, predictable and highly dependable.
It isn’t until after I’ve caught up with my email, Facebook, Twitter and RSS feeds that I begin to get ready for class. Throughout the day, my cell phone and laptop keep me updated, pleading for my attention with an array of high-pitched noises. My address book, calendar and class notes all live on the cloud and are readily accessible from any device I so choose. And to an extent, I couldn’t have even imagined my life without an internet connection. That is, until now.
For one week, the Reporter staff dared me to avoid modern technology, drawing the line at 1968 — the year RIT moved to its Henrietta campus.
Friday, April 22
In the hours leading up to The Great Blackout, I do everything in my power to prepare. I note every assignment due that week; I write down contact information for everyone I might possibly want to call; I even find several good books to pass the time.
None of this prepares me for the frustration of having to determine my apartment’s landline number.
All residential phone numbers on the RIT campus have the prefix 758. While I wasn’t about to manually punch in the 10,000 possible permutations to find the dead ringer, I might as well have; the MyHousing portal was worse than useless. After clicking every link on the portal, I couldn’t even summon my current housing confirmation. A campus residence directory does not exist, and all calls from RIT numbers show the receiver the same cover number.
I’m starting to understand why students no longer bring landlines to college. The technology isn’t obsolete — it’s incompatible with modern life. It’s nearly impossible to figure out your phone number! After almost two hours of trying, I give up.
After class, I attempt to figure out my phone number one last time. Tommy Tutone’s contemporaries won’t start writing numbers on walls until 1982, so I’m going to have to call around campus and hope that someone can see my number.
My first call to the Reporter office confirms my belief that the staff generally doesn’t function before noon. Luckily, my former employers at the Golisano Dean’s office have heard all about my article-related shenanigans and are happy to help. The senior staff specialist reads me the rather long string of digits off of her handset’s screen, and I somehow manage to identify the information I need. 585.758.6173.
I finally record a new voicemail message and set up my e-mail auto responder.
Time flies when you’re having a few drinks with some friends — never mind the fact that they’re really here to confiscate all your technology. I receive the two-minute warning to check my messages, and just like an afternoon spent watching internet memes on YouTube, the time slips away. The next thing I know, my laptop is ripped from my hands and snapped closed. I watch as the signature Apple icon dims and my roommate packs up my stuff for “safekeeping.” Let the games begin.
Saturday, April 23
I adjust my position and the couch squeaks as I reach over to the coffee table for my cell phone. My fingers grasp nothing but air. I groan as it all hits me. I’m thirsty. I groggily make my way to the cupboard, noting the blue digits flashing on the microwave. 1:36. Panic fills me as I wonder: where has the day gone? A faint cool light creeps in the living room window. It’s always cloudy in Rochester.
Another wave of thirst hits. I go to refill my glass. I check the microwave for the time once more. It’s only 1:36. Wait. What? With no phone or laptop, my sense of time is shot.
Crunch. Crunch. I listen with steadfast attention as I chew each bite of fresh spinach ten times over, the volume waning with each successive chomp. I swish a swig of Dr. Pepper from cheek to cheek before I swallow, and the sound of each gulp seems to echo in my mind. At this point, it’s less about enjoyment and more about wasting time.
The soundtrack of my supper is a simple comfort breaking through the sterile silence within the walls of my room. What was once a symphony of laptop fans, background music and cell phone beeps has now been replaced with an all-consuming silence. Emptiness. Resounding emptiness caused by the absence of most of my worldly possessions.
My rotary phone rings. It’s loud.
Sunday, April 24
I can only imagine what it would be like work for a publication in the 60’s, typewriting each page and marking each edit by hand. However time consuming and involved the process may be, there’s something extremely satisfying about covering white pages with red ink. The act of ripping apart each paragraph, line by line, word by word, in order to determine how each part contributes to the whole — it has never been as graphic, as intimidating, as intimate.
I think about the writing process of times past and the stark contrast it bears with everything I am familiar with. It seems almost too easy to outline each topic on a word processor, filling in each section, molding and sculpting the story with every edit, every revision. It’s mechanical; it’s routine. I imagine how much thought a writer had to put into a single sentence before transcribing it onto a page. I imagine a world without “backspace” and “delete.” It is my world, for now.
Monday, April 25
CRRING. I lift the headset and drag it toward my ear. I politely inform the caller that I am awake before hanging up and retreating back into my web of blankets.
CRRRIING. “I’m not coming to the meeting. I have a paper to write.”
CRRRRIIING. I pick up the headset once more, but this time, I drop it on the bed beside me before returning to a deep slumber. There is no snooze button for this wake-up call.
I shoot up and violently roll out of bed. I run to kitchen to check the time on our trusty microwave realizing I’ve somehow managed to sleep through my 10 a.m. class and half of my 12 p.m. class. The idea of investing in an old school alarm clock crosses my mind as I quickly get dressed and dash out the door. Luckily, a friend sent me one in the mail. Though it takes me three visits to the post office to procure it, the alarm clock makes a world of difference in the following days.
Wallace Library abandoned the card catalog system so long ago that the staff member I ask doesn’t even remember when the drawers left the building. But that doesn’t help my current predicament. I’ve got to make a presentation on Charles de Gaulle, and only 36 hours to put it together. If I ask a librarian for a few book recommendations, does it count if she references their online database? I throw caution to the wind. She hands me a slip of paper indicating the fourth floor. Lucky for me, the elevator predates the 20th century.
I stand helpless on the French border, face to face with an army of books. An entire row of shelves is dedicated to French history and culture, but less than a dozen of them focus on de Gaulle. Flipping through each one — and skipping over several written in French —I realize that I’m never going to have the time to sift through all of these. I choose one biography at random and head for a more concise history of France.
“You can’t check out any books unless you have a balance under $5,” says the student sitting behind the circulation desk.
While I can’t even recall the last time I borrowed a book, this library computer remembers everything — the date, the time, the title, and especially the fact that I owe it $10. I reach into my pocket and quickly realize that I have nothing on me but my debit card, which wasn’t invented until the 1970s. I don’t even have Tiger Bucks on my ID.
I quickly excuse myself and find a friend sitting at a nearby table. Together, we count every quarter, nickel, dime, and even penny between us. Unfortunately, we only scrounge up $2.03. In the end, she checks out the books and I smuggle them out of the library.
There’s just something about a real book — the weight in your hands, the texture of the pages, the smell... I sneeze. Okay, this library book is a little musty, but it’s from 1966. I sneeze again. I turn the page. I complete my rule of sneezing thirds. As I snap the book shut, a small puff of dust escapes from its crevices. It’s like that puff of smoke after the flash that makes the magician disappear. It’s that eureka moment. New technology is not so dusty.
Tuesday, April 26
There are three problems with making a PowerPoint presentation on Charles de Gaulle while avoiding technology. First, PowerPoint didn’t exist until the 80’s. Second, quality images cannot be imported to a computer without a digital scanner. And third, most of RIT’s books on the subject were published in the 60’s and 70’s and didn’t disclose how de Gaulle died. With all that said, I’m ashamed to admit that I am cheating.
While I was pre-approved to input my research onto a PowerPoint presentation using a library computer, I didn’t realize how many issues that single blast to the future would trigger. Addressing the image problem, I resolve to only use online photographs that I’ve already seen in my book research. With my grade on the line, I feel it’s a good compromise. But really, it’s de Gaulle’s cause of death that nags me. After 15 minutes of debating with myself, I finally call a friend to look it up on Wikipedia.
After class, I approach my French Films in Hollywood professor to hand in a hard copy of the day’s assignment. Having received one of my email auto responses, he teases me for using a laptop to click through my presentation and potentially using a printer for the assignment. I quickly explain that I had been given a typewriter to use for the week and apologize for the presence of a few typos. That two-page monstrosity took four hours to type and drained all my patience. Eventually, I gave up on typing the perfect piece.
Thursday, April 28
Dr. Mary-Beth Cooper, vice president for Student Affairs, greets me in the hallway outside of the Campus Center’s reading room. She says something that catches me completely off-guard: “Mady, I had a dream about you last night.”
By now, word had gotten around about my techlessness, and apparently, I’m not the only one anxious about it. Last night, a series of dreamed events had convinced Dr. Cooper that I was in trouble and unable contact her since I had no access to technology. “I just wanted to make sure you really didn’t need me,” she says. “And if you do, you can just come to my house.”
I inform her that, regretfully, I don’t know where she lives. Her solution: “You could call Public Safety, and they’ll come find me!”
Friday, April 29
The front door slams, and I rush out of my room. “Is it time yet?” my roommate asks. We both glance over at the microwave and continue to stand awkwardly in silence for a couple of minutes. Time crawls on as we search for a topic to talk about. My eyes dart back and forth, to and from the dim LED screen. It feels as if we’re frozen at 59.
Double zeros finally flash onto the clock and a long sigh of relief escapes my mouth. My roommate walks into his room and rolls out my goodie bag. I’ve made it.
Saturday, April 30
My heart races as I stare at the black screen, waiting for the login console to pop up. That’s what I get for not properly shutting down my machine. As I enter my password, I note how smooth the keys feel under my fingertips. Within minutes, I am bombarded. TweetDeck chirps, Adium flashes week-old missed instant messages, and an idle notification pops up on a leftover MyCourses tab. A familiar feeling of anxiety begins to kick in.
Two hundred and sixty unread email threads, seven Twitter mentions and 15 Facebook notifications scream for my attention, but something takes precedence: my comeback message.
“I’ve got internet bitches!” I tweet. And I mean it.
I feel like a space shuttle re-entering earth’s atmosphere. Waves slam against me as I knock each email out of the way, every one a major plot point in a never-ending saga. A drama unfolds. I laugh. I cry. But mostly, I cringe. I cringe at each new task added to my to-do list. I cringe at each mistake I made because I didn’t get the message. I cringe at every issue that everyone else wanted me to know about. Instant gratification slowly morphs into instant irritation, generating joules of frustration.
As both this challenge and this article come to an end, I reflect on the lessons I have learned: It doesn’t matter what you have access to, you’ll find something to waste your time on. Notetaking sucks when you have to write everything out by hand. And finally, prolonged exposure to gadgets and gizmos generally causes me more stress and anxiety, usually resulting in a range of a things including short tempers, insomnia and frequent headaches.