Wade Wilson is a self-described Luddite. The 60-year-old farmer north of Cortez doesn’t have Internet or even a computer and uses a cellphone only on rare occasions.
He got rid of his computer a few years ago after he decided his time could be better spent elsewhere. He doesn’t regret the decision.
“I think my life is better than being controlled by technology, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it,” he said. “I would rather read or visit neighbors than do anything like that.”
While Wilson’s disconnect with technology may drift toward extreme, a broad range of people are deciding to take a step back from technologies that aim to keep us constantly connected.
Charlotte Hough, a senior at Fort Lewis College, deactivated her Facebook profile two years ago.
“I didn’t feel like I was using it wisely on a personal level,” she said. “I spent way too much time on Facebook and started getting fearful of the virtual person it was creating.”
The social-media network also is a time suck, said Sheryl McGourty, co-owner of Yogadurango. She doesn’t have a Facebook profile, which she said is a rarity among her friends.
“I choose not to. I know it’s convenient, but it’s one more thing,” McGourty said. “At the end of day, the last thing I want to do is plug in. I would rather live here in the moment.”
Tori Maddux cited similar reasons for not having a cellphone.
“(Without a cellphone) you can focus on whatever is in front of you and you don’t get as distracted,” said Maddux, a sophomore at Fort Lewis College. “I know if I had a cellphone I would be on it all the time.”
Research shows Americans’ relationship with technologies such as social media is evolving.
“There is churn and fluidity in all of these spaces. We hear from people who have started using a service then back away from it or abandon it altogether,” said Lee Rainie, director of Pew Center’s Internet & American Life Project. “People are trying to work it into their lives and, sometimes, it makes sense to be deeply engaged and other times it makes sense to disengage, and they’re adjusting as the circumstances of their lives warrant.”
Whether it means culling their social-media networks or cutting down on use of email, people are beginning to “adjust the dial,” Rainie said.
“There is a lot more consciousness about the time commitment it involves,” he said. “The infatuation stage is over, and there is a somewhat more mature set of behaviors we are beginning to see in day-to-day use of this technology.”
A place to disconnect
While most people can’t bear the thought of living without their digital devices, there is a strong demand for temporary relief from such technology at places such as retreat centers and yoga studios.
Many of the people who visit the Tara Mandala Retreat Center in Pagosa Springs do so for the escape it provides from the constant buzzes and pings of cellphones, Internet and email, said Debra Travis, the center’s program director.
“A lot of people who have gotten into lifestyles and jobs where they are constantly plugged in. They are grateful for our retreats,” Travis said. “So many people are looking for a place where there is quiet, where they can let go of business and the minutia of daily living.”
Cutting off the digital connection to the outside world helps people be present.
“When you are plugged in, you are always taken outside of your bodily experience in the moment,” she said.
A strong appeal of yoga also is that sense of escape, said McGourty, of Yogadurango.
“Students most definitely appreciate slowing down and simplifying, listening to their bodies, breathing and moving in a balanced way,” she said.
Handshakes vs. mouse clicks
Dialing down time spent on digital communications devices can improve students’ communication skills and help them better connect with their peers, said Fred Peipman, a clinical therapist and licensed psychologist with Open Sky Wilderness Therapy who studies online social networking and cyber-psychology.
“Face-to-face interactions become contextually more rich and more valuable,” he said.
Maddux said not having a cellphone forces those face-to-face interactions.
Hough’s motivation was similar when she decided to abandon her Facebook page.
“At the time, I was like: I want to be a human that engages with other people face to face versus thinking that I’m only engaging with them in this virtual way,” Hough said. “(Facebook) disconnects us more than it connects us.”
In an ironic twist, she started a new Facebook page Wednesday to keep in touch with friends she grew up with in Europe. But this time, Hough said she plans to limit the number of friends she connects with and the numbers of pictures she posts.
That’s the plan at least.
“We’ll see,” she said. “Maybe I’ll go back into my addiction.”
Completely unplugging is much harder than people think, Peipman said.
He said he has seen an increase in people who resolve to step away from their technologies and devices, but most of the time it is only temporary. Disconnecting is hard because digital connections are so ingrained in everyday life, he said.
“As technology and Internet become more seamless, our connectivity becomes less and less obvious, more integrated and more seamless,” Peipman said.
Wilson, the farmer in Montezuma County, put it more bluntly,
“People let the damn stuff control their lives,” he said.
Most people’s sentiments about these technologies are mixed, said Rainie, of the Pew Internet Project.
“There is definitely a sense that there are times when lots of people feel stressed by this stuff,” he said. “But there are also times when they are deeply attached to it.”
Steve Lewis/Durango Herald