Though I anticipated to better understand the function of race, gender, privilege, and geography on this program, I certainly did not anticipate to learn more about the role of technology in my life. Living this last month without cell service has allowed me to recognize my unhealthy dependence on my phone, and the withdrawing and disengaging effect it has on my life. I recall during my first week here, I had such anxiety without cell service and constantly felt as if I was missing something. It was through this sense of unease that I recognized how unhealthy my dependence on my phone was and decided to break that attachment.
When I first arrived in Cape Town, my biggest complaint was that the Wifi did not reach to my room. At home and at school, I would often spend an hour or more aimlessly scrolling through my phone each night before I went to bed. Being without service in my room, I have seen dramatic improvements in the amount and quality of my sleep. It has been incredible to see how much my mood, alertness, and energy have improved from just 1-1.5 hours more of sleep per night. I plan to continue this habit after this trip by committing myself to the “hour rule”, where you don’t touch any sort of technology in the hour before you go to sleep.
Severing my tether to my phone has been instrumental in allowing me to deeply engage with my group and the community around me. Rather than spending my free time in my room on my phone or watching Netflix, I now find myself in the common room playing cards and chatting with my group in my down time. As a result, I now have a genuine connection with every person in my group and have established a number of close friendships that I am confident I will maintain back at Duke. Rather than squandering my free time on my phone, I now also find myself more inclined to go to different live performances, bars, and restaurants where I have had some of the most interesting and valuable interactions with the local community.
This impact has been particularly noticeable at work. Instead of going on my phone to pass free time or breaks at work, I have made a conscious effort to spend my time building relationships and learning from my coworkers instead. Earlier this week in the kitchen at work, I decided to strike up a conversation with one of the NU researchers while waiting for my toast instead of going on my phone as I ordinarily would have. This turned into a 20-minute conversation about race and immigration in South Africa that was was one of the most fascinating conversations I have had in my life, let alone this trip. This also drove me to think about how many other valuable conversations I have missed because of my attachment to my phone. Ironically, it took me stepping into a whole new environment for me to realize how much my dependence on my phone has prevented me from engaging with the world around me.