I rode the train much like I always do, with headphones in my ears, listening to music on my iPod. My destination was the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan; only an hour ride from Brooklyn, but one I could scarcely make without my portable tunes. I arrived just as the concert began, with Reliant K, Plain White T's, and Emery opening for Hawthorne Heights.
Though the music was to my liking, my real motivation for coming was that Nintendo was allowing people a sneak peek at the new Wii video game system before its release in a month. The wait on line was longer than my train ride, but at least I had live music to listen to here. Though it seems that wasn't enough for many as people started whipping out their Nintendo DSs and set up multiplayer games to kill the time. I touched at the case hanging from my belt and removed an onyx black DS of my own. I thought to myself, Isn't it enough that I have live music being performed in front of me? Do I really need to play games too?
For the train ride home, I flipped open my cell phone and began text messaging my friends about the show, though I couldn't remember if I liked the first three bands or not. I got off at the Kings Highway station and looked up and down three blocks for my car before remembering that a friend had dropped me off there.
At this point I was forced to face a harsh reality: I am too wired for my own good. With video games, MP3 players and dozens of other devices, I keep my brain gleefully amused all day long, and leave it no time to think about anything important. I had to do something about it. But I couldn't quit cold turkey. I'm fairly sure I'd go into depression or would take up a drug habit. So instead, I settled on a "wired diet" of my own design. For two weeks I restricted my entertainment intake and observed what changes it fostered in me mentally and socially. I wanted to know for certain whether or not I was better off without so much technology.
These are my rules for the wired diet:
1) 2 hours will be allotted per day for general entertainment (iPod, television, DVDs).
2) 1 hour will be allotted per day for video games (PlayStation, GameBoy, cell phone games).
3) Every message sent through AIM, MySpace or a cell phone will each cost 1 minute from either my video game or general entertainment time for the day.
4) There is no restriction on using a PC, as long as it is used for business or schoolwork.
Beginning this diet was hard; I had to choose carefully what entertainment to carry around. I decided to listen to one chapter from the novel "A Clash of Kings" by George R. R. Martin each day, and whatever time I had left I'd spend on whatever podcast or music I felt like. I left the Nintendo DS at home, for fear of giving in to the temptation during a boring stretch. Instead, I brought some manga (Japanese comic books), a school book to study if the spirit stuck me, and a blank book to use for any kind of writing I felt like.
From the first day, I noticed life was very different without so much technology. I work as a garbage man for a private company. It's a dull job of pick-up, toss, and repeat. I normally get by listening to podcasts I download through iTunes. My favorite is "Josh in Japan," a podcast about the daily life of an American living on a naval base Japan. I've even listened while driving the garbage truck, though my partner doesn't seem to like that as I frequently forget to keep up with him.
After only a few hours of work without headphones on, I noticed something: My partner, whom I've worked with for the last two years, is absolutely insane! I always knew he talked a lot, but I didn't pay attention. I used the music to drown him out. But now, I think he might be on America's most wanted list. Walking the rout was the hardest part. I forgot how boring it could be and I ended up thinking about what game I'd play when I got home. Songs kept getting stuck in my head and I'd hum them all day. I had to listen to a few minutes of music just to get something good stuck in my head.
I got home from work at 2:15 p.m. and felt listlessness like never before. I had a paper to finish, but I need to unwind a little before diving into more work. However, I wanted to save my gaming hour to go on a raid with my friends in World of Warcraft later that night. I found myself lying on my couch, staring up at the ceiling for what felt like hours, as if my brain had hit some glitch it didn't know how to correct. After many random thoughts and memories flashed through my brain, I suddenly remembered: I have to get my mom a birthday gift for next week. I rolled off the couch, shook my head and began looking for a gift online. It was 2:28 p.m.
During the evening I go to school to earn my degree in journalism. Since all of my classes have computers in them, I am constantly tempted to check my MySpace account before class and during breaks. During the first week I spent half and hour on it every day before I even realized it. I found this particularly regrettable since I don't talk to anyone on MySpace that I don't see once a week anyway. It made me wonder how much time I wasted on other equally pointless activities on the computer. I started thinking of a better way to spend that time in school. I opened up my blank book and started writing whatever drivel came to mind. At first I just wrote how I spent my tech-time that day, making sure to note how many text messages I sent (mostly telling people why I won't be sending so many anymore). Though, over the days the writing went from keeping track of what I did into planning out what I was going to do. Starting with when I'd use my entertainment time, I started factoring in time I'd need to do other things like eating schoolwork. Still, planning to do something and remembering to do it are two different things, and I didn't follow my itinerary very well.
By the first weekend I had adapted to my new lifestyle enough that I at least knew how to plan my activities in advance. Saturday morning was one of those rare moments I remembered to check what my written plan of activity. "Last chance to do homework," I scribbled for Saturday morning. I remembered then that I had figured out how I would be too busy practicing with my band or camping that weekend to work on anything for school after 2 p.m. today. I did groan at the prospect of doing schoolwork on a Saturday morning, but I also realized it was the only way I could get it done in time…and that I would never have gotten it done at all if I didn't spend so much time thinking about all this practical stuff.
The second week went by without me missing games as much. In fact, I started having game time left over at the end of each day (but not much). I coordinated with friends more over the phone rather than text. I got ahead of my school assignments for the first time in years, I remembered to pay my credit card bill almost on time, and I tried playing handball, but I learned that late October is slightly too cold for that.
I've learned that like food or alcohol, technology can be unhealthy in excess. It causes a kind of obesity that isn't as obvious as having a big gut, but it weighed me down all the same. I haven't kept up with the diet since the end of the experiment, but I definitely don't feel like going back to the way I was before. It hasn't really changed the fact that I'm forgetful and an airhead, but it has given me time to deal with the fact that I forget to take appropriate countermeasures. I may have been an extreme case, but I know there are people worse than I was. And though I searched, there isn't much research on the effects of technology on mental awareness. But I think people are their own best judges of their mental state. Next time you forget what you had for dinner last night; see if you remember the last video game you played.
Miss the first MyGamer WaterCooler Rant?? Check it out here!!