Technology and Americans have such a dysfunctional relationship. Since we arrived at the airport two weeks ago the forty of us have tested this relationship in several fascinating ways.
First, of course, we had to let our parents know we’d arrived. Now, to be fair, our pre-travel packet told us to tell our parents not to expect an email or call upon arrival. Yet, that didn’t stop my mom from sending me several emails (it is okay I forgive you, I know it was all out of love), or stop the rest of us from freaking out when we realized that we wouldn’t be going straight to the camp: Oh my god no faceb- I mean email!? We had to spend a whole 12 hours in Arusha for the night before we could get internet access – the end of the world, really.
Once we arrived at Moyo Hill Camp and let our respective loved ones know that all our limbs and luggage were intact we were surprised to find out that we had WIRELESS. Throughout ALL OF CAMPUS. Really, it was like Christmas all over again, only with sun instead of snow. Iphones, facebook, skype chat – it all came out faster than the Microsoft sign-in jingle could ring – all of this despite the fact that M’Lis told us repeatedly that if we overloaded the internet we could lose it for days.
We thought we were doing good, only checking facebook twice a day rather than twenty times. We bobbled around convinced that we could restrain ourselves enough not to kill the internet, I mean really, what was a little iphone text message here and there going to do? It was like a virtual test of the Tragedy of the Commons.
We did well, for a little while, and the first tragic technology event actually occurred not with the internet, but with the electricity. We were in the middle of our Wildlife Management class when the internet just shut off, on a perfectly sunny day, for no apparent reason. Kiffner was showing us pictures of animals we needed to memorize and he paused, said “well… that’s going to make this interesting,” and then promptly instructed us to go grab our computers, transfer the powerpoint with a flash drive, and continue the class each on our own computers until they died completely… until who knew when. The electricity was out for a good 24 hours and then sputtered for the next few days.
See, in Tanzania, the government sometimes just shuts off the electricity To the whole country. Because it feels like it. For undetermined amounts of time. Usually it happens because of drought, since most of the country’s electricity is hydropower. But the crazy thing is how no one in Tanzania seems to care. Here were us Americans, starting to whine about how we couldn’t have warm showers and see our food, and the rest of the country just went on its way. See, here electricity is not a necessity – it is a luxury. Imagine the whole United States going out of power…. how would we react? I don’t want to know.
So a few days after that episode we lost internet. Completely. We started feeling confident about social media and began downloading articles to research for our papers and we killed it. For two days we didn’t have any internet and for another two we only had one computer with one modem that the forty of us could use JUST for research for one an hour at a time. The whining was persistent. The whole time. We went from dramatically whining for a little bit about how our parents probably thought we were dead and we couldn’t wish loved ones a happy valentines day to truly bemoaning how we couldn’t do the research we needed to be good students, “I just want to download this ONE article.” Perspective.
But underneath those complaints I noticed something interesting happen. First in myself. I thought I was barely using the internet but until I completely lacked it I didn’t realize how much unintended time I was wasting. I read a whole book. I started sketching. I ran a little more. I was a little more social. Then I looked around me. The largest crew since the first day went out to play soccer. We started hanging out and playing music at night. We slept a little more, talked a little more. We helped each other do research.
It is remarkable how technology can alienate us even when we think we’re utilizing it at its minimum. We got internet back but now it is just in one academic building where we can all see who is online – honestly, I hope it stays this way.
This little, isolated experience has made me think about how much time I really spend with technology and how healthy our relationship is. I’d advise everyone to do so – it has been refreshing.Take how much time you think you spend relying on it and then double it because that is probably more accurate. It will at least make you think.