Making Face Time: The Surprising View I Discovered Beyond the Monitor

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If you can’t bear to abstain from all electronics for a day, pull the plug on your set during TV Turnoff Week. (Lisa Spiteri/The Observer)

Juliet Ben-Ami
Staff Writer
Published: February 26, 2009

Recently, I was listening to my iPod on the D train, and I saw a picture of a man and a woman kissing. Underneath them was a caption which read “the original instant message.” This was part of Dentyne Ice’s ad campaign to sell gum by encouraging people to “make face time.” Upon seeing the ad, I became melancholy with the realization that I hadn’t been making enough “face time” lately. Dentyne spoke to an experience that is common among those of us who over-occupy ourselves with our Blackberries and glue ourselves to our laptops for hours. It was then I knew that I needed to forego the electronically mediated conversations and go e-media-less. Immediately.

Think about how much time you spend per day using electronic media—your computer, phone, iPod, radio or anything else that is electronic and transmits words to you. Now think about what your day would be like if you refrained from using any of those media sources from the time you woke up until the time you went to sleep. What would you do? What would you notice? How would you change? Driven by these questions, I decided to unplug the wires and disconnect myself from the world of e-media for an entire day. This meant that I would suspend my use of phones, computers, televisions, radios and iPods.

Given my extensive involvement in Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) activities, I knew that this would not be easy, so I did what I do naturally: I planned. I knew that I had four separate appointments that day with people or groups, so I notified them that I would not be reachable. I designated my Facebook status to inform my over-500-person network that I would be virtually inaccessible for a day. I called, e-mailed and visited everyone that I would need to interact with during my e-media fasting day or those who normally counted on me for interaction.

Though this process of preparing to disconnect was cumbersome, it wasn’t the worst side-effect of the fast. The most difficult part of all was completing my homework. All of my classes require that I read, complete or submit my homework via Blackboard or e-mail. The night before the fast, I stayed up until 4 a.m. completing all of the assignments due during the next two days. After all this, I crashed in my bed and thought, “The worst is yet to come.”

When I woke up the next day, the first task was to meet up with someone for a one-on-one session. I arrived at our usual meeting place on time to find that he wasn’t there, and I immediately thought that all of my worst expectations for this disconnected day were coming true. I sought him out on foot, first traveling to his personal office and then racing to the central office. As my annoyance rose, so did my temptation to pull out the in-case-of-emergency, powered-off cell-phone in my pocket. However, I decided to resist that impulse and found a friend with whom I discussed my dilemma. She offered to call the person I was meeting up with, and I was eventually able to unite with him.

Just as the first hurdle was successfully jumped, I came head-to-head with another bothersome situation. I was supposed to meet with a group to talk with Campus Ministry about the “Choose Life” posters, but when I showed up late, I found the group was not there. I scurried back to our original meeting place. Luckily, one of the group members was there and informed me that the leader had sent out an impromptu e-mail indicating that the meeting was rescheduled. At first, I felt relieved. Then I felt helpless.

Every time I returned to my room, my first instinct was to turn on my computer or to press play on my iHome. I found that I consistently make it a habit to avoid silence. At one point during the day, I couldn’t tolerate sitting in my quiet room any longer. I took my copy of “The Alchemist,” and I read outside. A few pages through, I noticed how relaxed I felt and how engaged I was with the story. I realized I needed to make leisure reading part of my daily routine. However, I also found that I didn’t want to be alone for too long. Usually, I am perfectly okay spending the whole day alone, but now faced with the overwhelming silence of my own thoughts, I sought out company.

When I interacted with other students, I found myself feeling freer. Since I didn’t have my cell-phone with me, I didn’t feel the compulsion to pick it up as soon as someone called or texted. I was able to give my full attention to the person in front of me instead of desperately trying to connect with as many people as possible. For the first time in a while, I wanted to extend conversations instead of cut them short to reach the next person.

I became aware of the unreal expectations we have for communicating with each other. Oftentimes, as soon as someone texts us, we feel the need to respond right away with the logic of “Why not? It takes two seconds.” During my e-media fast, I came to understand how quickly those “two seconds” add up, text after text. Sometimes I find that my texting interrupts a conversation so frequently that those “seconds” add up to half of the conversation. I finally understood that e-media was causing me to lose a vital connection: the one with each person I talk to face-to-face.

As the day continued, the urge to reach for the closest electronic information source subsided. I embarked on this assignment thinking that an e-media fast would be so difficult for me that I would concede defeat out of my innate desire to be connected to everyone. Instead, I resisted my e-media reflexes and made some real connections. Who would have thought that a Dentyne Ice advertising poster would actually inspire me to “make face time?” During my e-media fast, I made more “face time” than I ever imagined I would. I faced my friends, I faced my thoughts and I faced my fears.

Prior to that day, I was afraid that if I didn’t leave every possible path of communication open, I would miss a chance to connect with someone. Now, I see that I don’t need to be attached to electronics 24 hours a day to stay connected when there are so many faces right in front of me.