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Mercyhurst students take timeout from technology, live life unplugged

Monday, March 24, 2014

“Are we masters of technology, or are we slaves to it?” asks Brian Sheridan, an instructor in the Communication Department at Mercyhurst University, whose question corresponds well with the lessons he teaches in his mindful communication class.

Because living in the present moment and taking a break from multitasking are just some of the things Sheridan’s students explore, he volunteered them as the first university team to participate in the national Tech Timeout campaign that runs during the month of April. Sheridan’s students will participate from Sunday, March 30, to Tuesday, April 1.

During a consecutive three-day timeframe — of which more than 5,000 high school students from across the country and Canada have pledged their participation — individuals will put down their cell phones, log out of social media accounts and quit multitasking to experience life unplugged.

“The timeout part is important,” Sheridan begins, “but the overall message I want to send my class is that we are filtering our lives through a small screen and through social media instead of really living. Technology, in many ways, has become a crutch that is keeping us from being mindful and living in the present moment.”

The Tech Timeout initiative, sponsored by Foresters Life Insurance Provider, was inspired by journalist and documentary filmmaker Michael Stusser. His film, Sleeping with Siri, highlights the juxtaposition that he personally experienced while living totally dependent on technology and social media for one week, and then completely unplugged from technology for another week.

In addition to appreciating life “in the moment,” the goal of Tech Timeout is to bring families and friends closer together, while also getting participants to experience activities unrelated to technology like playing outside, enjoying dinner together as a family and concentrating on one task at a time.

Students in Sheridan’s class will watch Stusser’s documentary, complete a one-page self-analysis about their “unplugged” experiences and later discuss what it was like living technology-free.

In addition, each student will sign a contract that binds him or her to a series of rules that must be followed, including: keeping cell phones at home and only using them like a landline; no social media access; computers can only be used to complete job-related work or schoolwork; no video games or GPS devices; and TVs or movies can only be watched if that is the sole activity.

“It’s important to remember that technology exists to assist us; it’s just another tool,” said Sheridan. “To live in the present moment — to appreciate life — is something we can do without needing to rely on technology. It’s OKAY to be unplugged.”