It all began with the four days this summer that were supposed to be mine and mine alone. Every university student with a demanding summer job knows what I am talking about.
You finish the winter semester, jump headfirst into your summer employment, and try to find a few days over the course of the summer to get away from it all.
Some people go hiking. Some people travel. Whatever your schtick is, you try to find a way to fit some of that in around all of your responsibilities.
You’ve planned it out, you’ve packed. You are finally going to have the chance to relax. You are getting away from it all … except that you aren’t. Because, with cell service coming close to universal coverage, no matter where you go you can still be reached through your phone.
You can no longer use the excuse that you were simply in the wilderness and out of reach. Even when everybody knows that you are on vacation, you’re still expected to be available via phone and email.
People never take into consideration that your vacation might not only be from your physical surroundings, but from everything within those surroundings as well — including them. You might say: “Why don’t you just turn off your phone or leave it at home?” While everyone’s reasons for this differ, my personal answers range from needing to be accessible in case of emergency, wanting to take photos, and not being able to risk my job.
Not only does universal cell service mean that you are always accessible, but it also means that you always have access — to your social media in particular. In a world of “pics or it didn’t happen”, the pressure to post the highlights of your life online is never ending. If you don’t post pictures of your trip or staycation online you aren’t marketing yourself and building your brand.
You spend half of your vacation considering what you want to post, when you want to post it, and how you are presenting yourself.
Why isn’t it enough to be able to enjoy what you are experiencing in that moment — the kind of moment that doesn’t come along very often when you work full time and take a full course load — without worrying about how other people are going to perceive your experience?
Why do we feel as though we owe it to other people to show them how we’re spending our personal time?
Another question that we should be asking is: what does this inability to disconnect do to our health? A 2012 study by Lin & Zhou et al published in The Public Library of Science explains that “Taken together, (studies show) internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.”
In a 2014 Psychology Today article, Victoria L. Dunckley explains, “excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties.
Frontal lobe development, in turn, largely determines success in every area of life — from sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills.”
Aside from the damage caused to our brains and mental health, my biggest qualm with the curse of universal cell service is this: because of it, there is no time that is solely your own.
There is never time where you can sit on the edge of a river or top of a mountain and take in the scenery without a text or email interrupting you.
Those moments and experiences that used to be yours alone in vivid and cherished memories are now captured and put on display for everyone to see.
You are expected to share your personal time with the world and the time you work hard to take off is now considered more of an on-call situation.
You never get to fully unplug and because of that there is never the chance to truly recharge.
Graphic by Milo Knauer.