As some of you know, a couple of weeks ago, I embarked on a very short-lived adventure/experiment. I had been reading this book called More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger (which, incidentally, I very much recommend to anyone and everyone). The purpose of the book is essentially to get you to re-think what is enough in your own life and to learn what to do with the excess. In order to accomplish this, Shinabarger uses something he calls “social experiments,” in which you start with a hypothesis, usually about something you or people in general have that is excess and you don’t need, and then you perform an experiment to test this hypothesis and to stand in solidarity with those who don’t have as much as you do.
I read the book and naturally wanted to do something about. What, I thought, was something I didn’t want to give up but could probably go without? My conclusion: my laptop. I wouldn’t get rid of it, but I wanted to see if I could go forty days without using it. Now, that’s not without using any computer, just using my own laptop. I reasoned that on such a tech-savvy campus (I go to Carnegie Mellon University, for those of you who don’t know), I should be able to go without having a personal computer. There are computer clusters everywhere, designed to help out people who don’t have computers or don’t/can’t carry them to campus every day.
So I embarked on my experiment. I told my mom what I was doing and got excited about learning to manage my time better and be more focused when I was working because I wouldn’t want to be on campus super late. My mom’s reaction was very confused (and I’ll get back to that in a minute). I, though, was excited, thinking about all the good that could come of my experiment.
I lasted precisely three days, at which point I had a paper and online (flash-requiring) homework due, campus computers were misbehaving, and my stress level was reaching epic proportions. I gave up on my experiment, always hating when I have to quit something that I’ve committed to. It’s not the way I like to work.
So what happened? My mom and I were talking on the phone the day I decided to call it off, and she mentioned that this was the first time I’d ever told her that I’d decided to do something and she just couldn’t understand why. She said it was like a carpenter committing to do his work without a hammer or nails.
I thought about that for quite a while, long after we stopped talking. It wasn’t quite like that. It was more like I was a carpenter that decided I wouldn’t use the finely tuned tools in my house that I had learned to work so well with and had adjusted until they fit my hands perfectly; instead I would walk a mile and a half to borrow my amateur neighbor’s tools that had never worked so well in the first place, much less in the hands that were used to paying great attention to detail with custom tools.
I’m a student, but more than that, I’m a poet, novelist, and blogger. I am a woman of words. I know that doesn’t actually require a computer–yes, I even still write by hand sometimes–but to be at my best and most effective, I use word processors, social media, and my blog. I’ve adjusted lots of things on my computer so that they work exactly how I want them to. Not only are these customizations not on the campus computers, but the campus computers are completely different kinds of machines altogether.
Sometimes I question why I, as a nineteen-year-old student, have such a high-level laptop. I don’t need it, not per se. But this was a great way for me to realize that my computer is a tool and that it helps me as an individual be more effective. My strengths are greatly augmented by appropriate technology.
There were other things I learned, too–the experiment did make me more focused and made me manage my time a little better. I spent a lot less time on time-wasting sites. It meant that there was a limited amount of work I could do in the evenings when I was home, so it kind of forced me to stop focusing quite so much on work (at least before scary deadlines started looming).
So I wouldn’t do it again, but I do want to figure out how to harness what I did learn and use it even while I keep using my laptop. And I also want to find another enough experiment, one that I can actually follow through with. But we’ll see.