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An Escape From Our Twenty-First Century

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

In her first article, Olivia Bancel, a member of the writers group, details her sense of personal dislocation within the twenty-first century and how that feeling pushed her to embark on a three month study abroad without technology.

Throughout my life, I’ve never felt like I belonged in the right century. Our twenty-first century lifestyle has felt so loud and chaotic to me; I always wished for a life more quiet and simplistic. We live in a world where new phones are being produced every year along with new social media trends feeding us with unrealistic expectations on the ways we should look and live out our lives. When first created, cell phones were something innovative that people used as a means of calling and staying in touch with one another. Once smartphones were invented, it came along with so many other components, instantly making phones become so much more. With the purpose of keeping people connected, phones have now become distracting, causing people to drift further apart.

Once my age group started getting phones and social media, I instantly felt out of place. I started to see how phones were slowly taking over all of our lives. Hanging out with my friends became an opportunity to take pictures for Instagram, rather than a time to spend with one another. My friends and I would spend hours making plans, trying to find out when and where worked best, only for everyone to be on their phones the moment we were finally together. After every class at school, I’ll see people take out their phones and check what they had missed after only forty-five minutes away from them. The increasing growth of phone use continued to concern me, however, I felt like I was the only person affected by it, making me feel lost in a century everyone else seemed to belong in.

One day during my freshman year of high school, I learned about a semester abroad program that my school provided for the fall semester of a student's sophomore year. That night, I scrolled through the website for hours, clicking through slideshows filled with photos of beautiful mountains and smiling students. As I continued to search through the website, something caught my eye: for the three months that students went away, they didn’t have access to any technology, something that immediately made me want to go even more. With the desire to finally feel like I was a part of a different time, one when phones weren’t around, I applied to the program. I spent weeks working on my application, making sure it was perfect and sent it off, finding out only a few weeks later that I had been accepted.

At the beginning of September of my sophomore year, I left my friends and family to go to my semester abroad for the next three months. As soon as the fifty other students and I arrived, we were told to place our phones into one big bag. While I dropped my phone into the bag, I felt many different emotions, although the emotion that I felt the most was relief. Knowing that I would be spending the next three months without the distraction of social media and not having to face seeing phones disconnect people everyday made me feel lighter.

My semester abroad was amazing in so many ways, but the part that had the biggest impact on me was not having my phone for three months. When hanging out with my new friends, something that had felt distracting and impersonal back home, finally felt more meaningful. By not having our phones, we were all forced to live in the moment and make the most of every day. Moments that would normally be opportunities for people to use their phones were replaced with discussions and laughter; something that might not have occurred as often if phones were around. Without the constant need to be thinking about what to post on Instagram or keeping streaks for Snapchat, I felt that people were more authentic with one another and could be themselves. Not having my phone for three months felt so natural and easy because I wasn’t alone; I had fifty other students my age going through the same thing with me, making the experience feel so special.

When the three months sadly came to an end and it was time to go home, I was once again faced with the crazy twenty-first century life that I felt I had finally escaped from. When arriving at my school back home, I rushed to hug my friends with the hope of talking to everyone about our three months apart. Although, as soon as I finished greeting everyone, I was once again faced with teenage girls and boys glued to their phones. I stood and watched my friends in sadness. I was sad that they didn’t understand how amazing life was without phones and that they would never be able to live the life I had the chance of experiencing. I was sad that they were all sitting with one another but were all in different, far away worlds that were distracting them from the people who were in front of them. What I was most sad about, was the fact that this was my new reality again and that the time I spent without my phone would most likely never be able to happen again.

Although my transition back home wasn’t easy, I learned to use what I gained from my time away and apply it to my life now. Trying to be on my phone less today without having fifty other people by my side is a constant struggle; being around people who are on their phones often will at times make me feel like I’m missing out in some way, something that I have to remind myself is not true. Although I try my best to minimize my screen time, I continue to face struggles when it comes to my phone everyday. I will have days when I will be on my phone an unhealthy amount, feeling attached to my screen and the information social media feeds me with. I’ve had to learn from these days and remind myself of the semester I got to experience for just a small fraction of my life; a fraction that made such a significant impact on me. Reminding myself of my time away helps me set my phone aside and do something more satisfactory with my time like going on a walk with a friend, baking cookies or reading my favorite book.

My semester abroad taught me that life happens once; that everyday is a gift and it’s up to me to choose how I want to spend it. I’ve chosen to be present. To see every moment as a blessing and to appreciate where I am and the people I’m surrounded by. By experiencing a life without technology, I’ve been able to learn from it and minimize the time I spend on my phone the best I can. Now, rather than looking down at the world my phone has created for me, I’ve begun looking up towards the world that’s right in front of my eyes.

Cover photo by Cancer_July from Shutterstock