Disconnect: A case study of short-term voluntary mobile phone non-use
First Monday

Disconnect: A case study of short-term voluntary mobile phone non-use by Sun Kyong Lee and James E. Katz



Abstract
A group of young adults were observed and interviewed as they spent a weekend without access to the mobile phone and Internet. Thirty-seven students participated in a program, entitled “unplugged weekend.” How they experienced the social interactions and flow of time without the usual interruption by mobile communication was the main point of examination. Contrary to our expectations, the 48-hour period of disconnection was judged to be a unique, entertaining, and satisfactory experience for most participants. Using humor, establishing common grounds, and uses of the body were three main characteristics of co-present social interactions observed during the trip. There were “dual” perceptions of time flow: Some reported that time slowed down whereas others reported that time flew rather quickly throughout the weekend. Overall, many participants rediscovered the value of co-present embodied interactions by sharing various activities while giving undivided attention to one another.

Contents

Introduction
Methods
Results
Discussion
Conclusion

 


 

Introduction

In the modern age of technology, it is common to see a group of people, co-present in a social setting but each immersed in their own smartphones. Not long ago, using mobile phones in focused co-present situations was considered a barrier to interactions among participants (Ling, 2008). However, it seems that as the ubiquity of mobile phone use in our daily lives has culminated over the past 20 years or so, tolerance for mobile communication breaching the co-present interaction has increased. Many people, especially younger generations, now accept to a certain extent that their co-present interaction partners can get distracted at any moment during the interaction (Baron, 2011). Does this mean that mobile communication is seamlessly integrated into our daily co-present social interactions?

During the past two decades, society seems to have acclimated to mobile phone usage and people have adjusted rather quickly to the state of perpetual contact (Katz and Aakhus, 2002). It used to be that no one had mobile phones; having a means of mobile communication seemed like a dream, and gaps in communication were normal. Now, however, not being in touch with friends and family even for a relatively small block of time is seen as a huge, seemingly tectonic event and an emotionally fraught situation for those who are not prepared in advance. The current study provides a rare opportunity to reflect on how far we have come and how much we currently rely on this small but very crucial gadgetry for our safety and social interactions.

Drawing on Goffman’s concept of “civil inattention,” [1] Ling (2008) analyzed how mobile communication sometimes trumps co-present ritual interactions to disrupt the flow of the interaction and direct interlocutors’ attentions elsewhere. From his detailed analyses on co-present interactions and mobile communication, Ling concluded that mobile communication might be hindering people’s ability to generate a common atmosphere in co-located social settings. This is mostly because “the posture of using one’s mobile phone is perceived as a request for civil inattention by interacting partners” [2]. On the other hand, Ling also showed how people constantly negotiate with co-present others even while partially disappearing into the sphere of mediated interaction, which indicates that mobile communication is not “abstract and ego-centered absorption in another thought world” [3], but becoming a part of our mundane ritual interactions [4]. Therefore, how mobile communication influences face-to-face interactions still remains an indefinite question.

Much literature and popular discourses on young people’s new media uses were and are still focused on how their everyday lives and social interactions are intertwined with the use of mobile phones and the Internet. Previous research highlighted the generational differences in information and communication technology usage and revealed active adoption and unique patterns of mobile phone usage (e.g., lexical shortcuts in text messaging) by teenagers (Cingel and Sundar, 2012; Kasesniemi and Rautiainen, 2002; Ling and Yttri, 2002) and college students (Baron, 2011; Ito, 2005; Thulin and Vilhelmson, 2007, 2010). Researchers examined the potentially negative impact of intensive texting on young people’s writing styles (Baron, 2008) and English grammar skills (Cingel and Sundar, 2012). More recently, Turkle (2011) raised a concern about how younger generations might not be able to appreciate the “authenticity” of in-person human interactions due to their strong attachment to technological devices and familiarity with mediated interactions.

However, Yoon (2006) countered that the popular notion of young people always setting the trend of new media usage and being tech-savvy was exaggerated by mass media discourses. The point of his criticism was that not every young person in a society is enthusiastic about using new media technologies as portrayed in popular media, and that everyone does not have the same level of access to mobile phones or show the same level of usage. Thulin and Vilhelmson (2010) also pointed out from their panel study of Swedish urban youth that a majority of the panel were not considered to be frequent mobile users; “only a small group fit into the common stereotype of young people constantly on the move and in touch” [5]. Therefore, we cannot make a definite causal claim that all young people are strongly attached to their mobile phones and incapable of having in-person interactions because of their preference of mediated communication.

Young generations might prefer mediated communication such as texting and instant messaging on social network sites over face-to-face communication because they can be more playful and friendly online. Walther (1996) explored this phenomenon when developing his concept of hyperpersonal communication. Furthermore, people might feel more emotionally safe when initiating and/or breaking their social ties by mediated communication than in person. By offering examples such as robotic pets, Turkle (2011) made readers reflect on the idea that people might be willing to replace their romantic partners with robots one day to avoid the complexity and messiness of interpersonal relationships.

To understand how “being used to” and “preferring” mediated communication affects our in-person interactions, there is a need to observe how people interact when they do not have any communication technologies available but only have each other’s company. If people feel awkward and uncomfortable in their in-person interactions because they are not able to quickly disappear into their mediated social world, it could be evidence that we are indeed losing our appreciation of authentic human-to-human communication and moving toward a society illuminated in the science-fiction movie, WallE. In the movie, people, in the future society, are constantly communicating with someone while sitting in their own automated flying machines, but only through mediated channels. If a study is performed particularly among young generations of mobile phone users, it will be possible to examine whether they are less capable of being engaged in meaningful conversations in-person by observing how they interact socially when they do not have any communication technologies with them.

Against the backdrop of this popular notion as well as mixed research findings on young people’s mobile phone use, a unique opportunity for an observational case study occurred. A group of college students spent a weekend without access to their mobile phones and Internet service as a part of the student life program offered by the school (i.e., a large northeastern university in the U.S.). About 40 participants were recruited to attend an “unplugged weekend.” The recruited participants [6], who could accompany their friends on the trip, stayed in a YMCA camp located in a suburban area and interacted with one another in a social setting. During the trip, which started Friday afternoon and lasted until Sunday afternoon, students could choose to take part in diverse activities such as archery, wall climbing, and sledding. The researcher attended the trip as a participant observer. On the way back from the trip, the staff coordinator (a pseudonym, Mike, will be used throughout) in charge of the event announced that the researcher needed help in writing a paper on their experiences of not having access to the media during that weekend. Thanks to the rapport established between the researcher and the other participants during the trip, many of them volunteered to fill in an online survey asking about their experiences on the trip. Six participants were interviewed in further depth on their personal reflections.

The following section first explains how the event was planned during an earlier staff meeting and then presents research questions of the current study. Since all the participants of the event were recruited on a voluntary basis, the group cannot be assumed to be a representative sample of college students. Thus, it becomes important to understand the background of the event, including its planning, framing, and advertising, as well as what kind of expectations were set up before the event, all of which might have influenced participants’ motivations for and experiences of the event. Then, the results of the post-event online survey as well as discussions regarding the implications of the research findings will be presented. The findings from in-depth interviews and the researcher’s field observations are inserted throughout the results section when more detailed explanations and interpretations are necessary.

Planning and expectations of the event

The first author was invited to the staff meeting for the event planning in late October 2010. A campus dean and two staff members, including Mike from the recreation department, participated in the meeting, during which they discussed the location, cost, and possible composition of participants. The dean, who initially suggested the idea of an “unplugged trip”, mentioned that the event should be framed as recreational, but a learning environment could be created as well. However, Susan, the executive director of the recreation department and Mike’s supervisor, seemed to emphasize the recreational aspect of the event more. Susan said that students would be told that they could escape from the school and enjoy a weekend with their peers. In the meeting, it was agreed that students would be allowed to bring at least one friend with them, so they would not be alone or feel awkward during the trip [7]. Thus, the staff was concerned about whether students could get along well with strangers and handle being unplugged in the social setting of the camp.

The executive director, Susan, repeatedly suggested providing the students the option of not doing anything; they could choose to just sit by the fire and read books during the whole trip. Thus, the basic concept of the trip was a weekend getaway offering relaxation from busy school lives, with options for activities. The researcher’s participation during the meeting was kept to a minimum level by answering questions only when asked. Throughout the meeting, an underlying assumption was that students might be hesitant to go on a trip without having access to their mobile phones because they are so attached to their phones that they might be afraid of letting them go. Thus, the staff had to make sure that the trip would not only be fun and full of activities, but also leave room for relaxation. The original intention of the unplugged trip was to observe how students react to the social situation and to help them overcome the dependency on their mobile phones. Mike, the event coordinator, acknowledged that he wanted students to learn how to speak to one another without holding their technological devices in hand.

The staff and faculty discussed making a checklist to be provided to students during an informal meeting before the trip. Since students were going to be out of touch with their family and friends for the weekend, it was decided that participants should inform their parents that they would not be able to answer any phone calls. They also discussed how to make sure that students would not bring their cellular phones, or, if they did, how to make sure they would not use them. It was discussed whether or not all of their phones should be taken away, put in a safe place, and given back when heading home. However, the organizers were also concerned that students would not be willing to let the staff take possession of their “expensive” smartphones even for a few days. This concern seemed to have influenced the staff members’ decision to not officially check whether individual participants brought their mobile phones with them or not. Only when the students were spotted using cellular phones, were the phones taken away by the staff members on the first day of the trip.

Five weeks before the actual trip, a public event page about the trip was created on Facebook, and invitations were sent out to all members who had joined the Facebook group of the recreation department. On the page, the following phrase was provided for the description of the trip: “Join us for a weekend of fun and relaxation. No cell phones, laptops, anything that communicates with the outside world allowed! We will be sleigh riding, cross-country skiing, hiking, and more in our own heated lodge in the woods. $50 covers the cost of transportation, lodging, and meals.” With a similar phrase and an image of a person skiing, an event announcement was made on the school’s official Web page for recreational activities as well [8].

Research questions

Based on the notion that many college students’ social lives are heavily reliant on their use of mobile phones, the researchers expected that the participants might feel anxious and awkward during the initial stage of the event, if not throughout the whole trip. This psychological and social uneasiness was well reported from people who were disconnected from their house telephones for 23 days in 1975 Manhattan (Wurtzel and Turner, 1977). The possible anxiety or concern for safety was expected to be a potential obstacle for participants to even register for the event [9]. Research consistently found that emergency preparedness was one of the predominant reasons of mobile phone adoption and use (Cohen, et al., 2008; Lee, 2005; Leung and Wei, 2000; Wei, 2008). Thus, the researchers expected that concern for safety might arise even though an emergency number was provided for students to be contacted by their family and friends.

Overall, the researchers aimed to examine how the participants experienced the trip as a whole — for example, what they liked and did not like about the trip and the co-present social interactions they had during the trip. Therefore, we posed the following research question before entering the field:

RQ1: How do participants of the unplugged weekend event communicate during social interactions without having access to their mobile phones and Internet services?

In addition, due to the fact that participants were not allowed to bring their cellular phones, used often for checking time and managing schedules, it was expected that participants might feel differently about time. For example, Wurtzel and Turner’s (1977) study found that some people reported their life being less hectic without the telephone. However, the experience of time, particularly related to the use of mobile phones, has not been studied extensively previously (Chung and Lim, 2005; Green, 2002; Ling and Haddon, 2003; Thulin and Vilhelmson, 2006). Thus, the researchers asked the following question to examine how non-availability and non-use of mobile phones influence participants’ experiences of time:

RQ2: How do participants of the unplugged weekend event experience time without having access to their mobile phones and Internet services?

 

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Methods

Post-event survey

A total of 40 people (including three staff members and the first author) participated in the unplugged event that was held between 11-13 February 2011. There were 19 females and 21 males. According to the event coordinator (i.e., Mike), some students applied to the event individually in the beginning of recruitment process, and later, other students applied in groups. Mike said he was surprised to find that students came in large groups of pre-existing friends. When Mike announced bedroom assignment, he said that various sizes of groups wanted to stay together in one room. No co-ed lodging was allowed during the trip, but the researcher noticed that there were about four couples participating together in the unplugging event. Mike estimated that about the half of participants were there with their friends, and the rest of participants were by themselves.

Among those participants, 27 (73 percent response rate) students took the post-event survey, which was distributed through a group e-mail with an online survey link. Mike sent out the survey within a day of returning from the trip and the survey was available until a week after the trip. The survey questions asked what participants liked and disliked about the event, and how they experienced the trip without using cellular phones and the Internet. In addition, questions asked how they prepared the trip knowing that they would not have access to cellular phones, what their friends and family told them about not being able to reach them during the weekend, and how they felt about “time” during the trip. The survey was completely anonymous, asking participants’ experiences of the trip only and not requesting any demographic information. The sample size (N=36; excluding staffs and the researcher) was too small to make any statistical comparisons across different demographic groups. Thus, an anonymous survey method was chosen to assist participants feel safer in their honest answers.

Before asking open-ended questions about participants’ experiences of the trip, four questions were asked in order to measure the satisfaction level of the trip, location of the trip, meals, and activities, all using 10-point scales (with one being the worst and ten being the best). For the satisfaction level of the trip itself, the mean score was 9.58 (SD=5.48) out of 10; it was 9.15 (SD=4.57) for location; 7.85 (SD=3.53) for meals; and 9 (SD=4.03) for activities. Overall, participants were highly satisfied with the trip, and they liked the location and activities offered during the trip. When asked whether they would be willing to participate in this kind of trip again, all respondents answered yes, which reflected again the high level of overall satisfaction.

Post-event interview

The first author conducted in-depth interviews with six participants. There were five females and one male interviewee and all were seniors. One female interviewee was a middle-aged returning student and all others were in their early- or mid-20s. The interview questions included why they decided to participate in the event, how and whether they updated their status in their social media accounts (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) before the event, and how they liked the quality of social interactions during the trip. Each interview took approximately 30 minutes, and was held at a public place such as a coffee shop, a school cafeteria, or an empty classroom. Upon receiving permission and a signed informed consent form from each participant, the interview was recorded.

Analyses of the open-ended survey answers and interviews

A grounded theory approach (Strauss and Corbin, 1998) was used to analyze participants’ answers to the open-ended questions in the post-event survey. The interviews were transcribed verbatim. The researcher went through all the documents (about 60 pages) generated from both the survey and interview transcriptions and manually coded major categories and themes. Common themes emerged through the identification of frequently used words and phrases in participants’ answers. The interview data were compared and contrasted with the dominant themes that emerged from the analyses of the survey data and used to better understand the contexts and experiences of the participants. The emergent themes and categories are presented in the following results section along with direct quotes from the survey and the interviews.

 

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Results

Preparation for the trip

One question in the post-event survey asked how participants prepared for the trip in terms of emergencies, knowing that they would not have access to their mobile phones during the weekend. Fourteen out of 26 (53.8 percent) respondents answered that they informed their family and/or friends or “everyone”, as they said, about not being able to be reached during the weekend. The following are two examples of those responses (no pseudonyms were used for survey responses as they were completely anonymous answers):

I just informed everyone that I would not be able to communicate with them for the weekend.

I just told my family where I would be at and when I was coming back.

However, almost 40 percent of survey respondents answered that they did not do anything specifically to prepare for an emergency [10]. One participant said s/he should have prepared, and others indicated that they thought the supervision by the staff members would be enough, or (since it was just a weekend trip) they would not need anything particularly for emergency preparation. The following quotes from the survey answers represented the theme of nothing for preparation of the trip:

Not really. I assumed that the provisions made by the chaperones were more than sufficient.

[I] didn’t worry about emergencies. I figured it was only two days.

During a pre-event meeting, the staff coordinator, Mike, gave an emergency phone number of the camp to everyone so people could reach them from outside; he emphasized that the phone number should not be used for any other purposes than emergency. Eight participants (about 31 percent) mentioned that they prepared for the trip by giving the emergency number to their family members. One participant brought a medicine kit to the trip as an emergency preparation and two participants mentioned having to arrange for dog sitting and for substitute volunteering in the survey. Rather surprisingly, only one participant mentioned updating a Facebook status before leaving for the trip as a preparation [11], and another participant had a cellular phone during the trip, but kept it off. Therefore, participants showed a wide range of emergency perception and social obligation that is attached to the mobile phone access. Some had a heightened sense of security and felt obliged to tell everyone that they would not be reached during the weekend; others did not care too much because they believed not having access (or not contacting their family and friends) for two days would not cause much anxiety or trouble.

Another question was asked about what participants’ family and friends told them after they returned from the trip. The question was to see the impact, if any, of the disconnection from the participants’ social networks for 48 hours. Although many participants (11 out of 26, 42.3 percent) answered that their significant others were not worried, since they had notified them about not being able to reach them and vice versa, there were responses that clearly showed the result of disconnection among those who failed to inform family and friends about the trip. One participant said people who did not receive text messages back from the person became angry, and another said the parents got nervous about the situation. There was a comment; “they thought I lost the phone,” and another said, “they missed me and worried I had no phone.” Interestingly, three participants said their parents actually liked the idea of getting away from technologies and were curious about their experiences. One participant said the parents were surprised to see that s/he managed to spend the weekend without using the cellular phone and Internet.

Co-present social interactions

The following section will provide analysis of the first author’s field note that was written from the observation during the trip. There were three main characteristics of participants’ unmediated social interactions that emerged from the analysis: humor, common grounds, and uses of the body. The first two were found as common aspects of communication between in-person and mediated social interactions whereas the last was the most unique aspect of co-present interactions.

Humor. First, participants often used humor when they were interacting with one another in-person. Mike, the event coordinator, made many jokes during the trip probably because he wanted to smooth the atmosphere and make the trip a fun experience for students. For example, when he mentioned that the unplugged weekend was about not using cellular phones or laptops on the bus going to the campsite, Mike found one person using his cell phone (it might have been an MP3 player, or an iPhone used for listening to music). He asked the participant in a joking way; “you’re not using your cell phone, are you?” Mike also made a humorous announcement about snoring while sleeping at the campsite: “Please think twice before you punch the person who’s snoring because it is highly possible, you could be doing the same as well.”

While the event coordinator made some intentional jokes to relax the atmosphere, several participants interacted with one another also using humor in their communication. Vivian and Suzie, who were mother and daughter participants, and Suzie’s boyfriend Wayne, were chatting, and the researcher overheard them making jokes about a five-hour energy drink and how Vivian might be able to climb the wall (at the camp) easily after taking the energy drink. Although Vivian was Suzie’s mother, she was also a student of the same university and participated in the trip recommended by her daughter. On the bus, Suzie found that her mom carried her cellular phone with her; she called Vivian’s phone, and took her phone to give it to Mike. Vivian tried to get her phone back by talking to Mike on the bus, but it was unsuccessful.

The first night at the campsite, participants watched a movie, Friday the 13th, together. After watching the movie, which was supposedly a scary one, but turned out to be funny and ridiculous, some participants made jokes related to the movie. The movie was perceived as hilarious since it was initially released in 1980, when most participants were not even born. Thus, the setting, video technology, and people’s clothing in the movie seemed too outdated for the college students nowadays. However, the audience was appalled and they screamed during one of the last scenes when a boy, named Jason in the movie, who should have died from drowning, jumped out of the lake and tried to take the last survivor down from a boat. Based on the collective experience of watching a horror movie together, many participants made humorous statements like “Watch out! Jason’s gonna get you!” Since the interacting parties could understand what that statement meant by sharing the context, they could also share laughter upon hearing the joke.

Common grounds. Second, when interacting for the first time with someone whom participants had not met, they tried to find commonalities among themselves as conversation starters or they talked about current events. While we were waiting for dinner after a quick tour of the camp, Annie talked to me about her best friend, Mina, also being Korean. Most Americans did not notice that the researcher was a Korean just by the appearance; they usually asked whether I was a Chinese, then a Japanese, and then a Korean. Annie might have been able to tell the subtle difference between East Asians due to her closest friend being one of them. Annie was standing right next to me during the icebreaker (a circular introduction), of which the physical proximity also made it easier for her to talk to me. She asked my major and found out we both major in communication. Annie was an Egyptian-American, which I found out during our initial interactions, and I remembered hearing from the news that same morning, the Egyptian president had resigned suddenly in the midst of citizen movement. So I asked how she felt about that news. She told me the news was very exciting and now she and her family could visit Egypt more freely. Annie called over her friend, Mina (who also participated in the unplugged weekend), to introduce us to each other and we chatted about how Annie could speak some Korean words taught all by Mina. When I asked Annie about her favorite Korean musicians, she told me it used to be Shinhwa, but it changed. Later, I found out Mina and Annie have been friends since preschool years, so they were literally “BFF (best friends forever)” and they also lived together in one of the campus dorms. How participants interacted with one another for the first time through finding common grounds did not seem very different from how in-person communication between strangers usually progresses.

When Vivian was trying to get her cellular phone back from Mike on the bus, she asked him where he went to school. Asking that question may have been her strategy to make the interaction more comfortable and friendly. She found out that they both grew up in the same city, which became a common ground of conversation between them. Later, a bus driver, who was also a similar aged-man with Mike, joined their conversation. The three talked about when they graduated high school to find out whether they belonged to the same generation. Mike talked about how he felt old “today” because when he mentioned some television shows or music bands, college students did not recognize them. Therefore, three of the older participants of the trip, including the bus driver, were connecting with one another by first identifying their common ground, being born and growing up in a similar generation.

Another first interaction between strangers that the researcher observed showed how participants used common grounds to continue their conversation. Mark, who studied economics and Russian in college, remained in the living room area with Dan when most other participants went to bed during the first night. When the researcher was about go to sleep, they started playing table tennis and I heard them discussing about micro- versus macroeconomics classes and how they liked them differently. Both Mark and Dan must have taken the two classes at school, which became a common ground for their initial interaction.

Using humor and establishing common grounds during in-person social interactions were similar with characteristics of mediated communication. Scholars had found playful and communal nature of various mediated communication forms including online chat rooms, massively multiplayers online role-playing games, and even e-mail listservs (Baym, 2010; Rheingold, 1994). However, being able to share a fun joke spontaneously that was closely related to the context of the social interaction was experienced more vividly in each other’s co-presence. In addition, when we communicated in-person, identifying common grounds between interactants could be based more on people’s appearances such as their ethnicity and age because it was easier to notice those physical characteristics than one’s personalities or hobbies. Therefore, while humor and common grounds were similar communication techniques used for both in-person and mediated interactions, experiencing them might be more live with co-present bodies. Perhaps the last main feature of co-present interactions observed during the trip would be the least similar aspect between in-person and mediated communication.

Use of the body. Throughout the weekend, participants of the unplugged event engaged in many informal physical activities such as snow fighting, sledding, table tennis, and soccer. There were also scheduled activities available during the daytime and participants enjoyed wall climbing, BB-gun shooting, and pretzel baking. The researcher participated in many of those activities and found sharing physical activities became the essence of unmediated social interactions during the trip. Even though many participants did not know each other before coming to the camp, it seemed natural and easy for them to ask someone to join a table tennis when one player was missing.

The nighttime sledding on the hill was the climax of all physical activities, and it was so thrilling to go down the hill at such a high speed. When two people sledded together on a large tube, they had to sit tightly while each person’s body touched another naturally. The sledding felt like riding one of the most dangerous rides in an amusement park, but without any safety guard, which was especially frightening. Participants shouted out with excitement and thrill while sledding down the hill passing through the wood in darkness. Undoubtedly, the experience of sledding together became a great topic for a later conversation and a source of bonding among participants.

After breakfast on the second morning, the researcher went to shoot BB guns with Annie and Mina. Each person received a scoreboard and five bullets. How well someone did in BB gun shooting also became a conversation topic since they could all compare each other’s scoring. On our way back to the camp, we found four international student participants playing with a ball. One of them suggested playing “football,” which she meant soccer (she was from U.K.), and everyone else except myself thought she meant American football. Two teams were formed quickly and we played soccer for about 30 minutes. Through playing a quick soccer match, participants got to know each other better such as whether someone was playful, competitive, and witty by experiencing how that person played and reacted to the others’ play. We exchanged comments on the play, laughs, and giving each other hi-fives. Therefore, uses of body for sharing such physical activities enriched participants’ social interactions by making those interactions more casual and by allowing more ways of feeling each other’s co-presence such as touch.

Three favorites: People, activities, and absence of technology

When asked what they liked most about the unplugged trip, 20 participants answered they liked new people they met during the trip; seventeen of them commented about diverse activities offered at the camp; and twelve mentioned the fact that they did not have access to technologies like cellular phones and laptops. Thus, not having access to the mobile phone and Internet service seemed to be one of the main reasons why they liked the event, but it was not necessarily the best part of the trip. The following quote from the open-ended survey answers represented these themes of people, activities, and no-technology:

Meeting so many new people and bonding instantly, the amount of things we could do in a few days, and how everyone only had each other to talk to instead of cell phones.

While playing a Korean traditional folk game, gongi, on the campsite, Annie mentioned how Facebook became too intrusive into her private life. She noticed after attending some event, where she met someone new and connected with the person via Facebook, that the Facebook newsfeed showed “so and so became friends after attending this particular event.” Annie said it felt “too much” when she saw that message on Facebook. It seemed possible that she wanted to get away from putting her social life online and being under the surveillance of communication technology at least during unplugging.

Six participants enjoyed the flexibility and freedom in choosing what they could do at any given time during the trip. No activities were forced in any way nor did participants have to follow any strict schedules during the trip, except for the mealtimes. The flexible aspect of the unplugged trip was advertised beforehand on the official website and social media of the recreation department for recruitment. A couple of students were observed just relaxing, taking a nap, or reading after lunch on the second day of the trip. The following quote from the survey answers reflected this theme of flexibility and freedom:

I enjoyed the fact that everything was optional and that you could choose what you wanted to do at any given time.

In the interview, two participants’ answers highlighted the characteristics of flexibility and freedom as their main motivations for participating in the event. They also mentioned that the cost of the trip was a very good deal considering the length of the trip and the activities offered. The following quote showed the motivation for an interviewees participation in the event:

... ’cause the fact that it was a weekend away, and then you don’t have to worry, you can do whatever you want, ... on the description, it was very clear that the activities were there, but you don’t have to do them. You can just read a book, if you want, so the atmosphere will be really nice. If you want, you can meet people, and also just the fact that it was $50 for all those things; that well like, okay, it’s a great deal, ...

We adopt communication technologies to enjoy flexibility and freedom they afford in our daily lives such as being able to make and change appointments on the go and overcoming spatial-temporal limitations. However, it was ironic that some participants chose to participate in the unplugged trip to enjoy and experience flexibility and freedom when they did not have access to technologies.

Experiences of mobile phone non-use

Contrary to the researchers’ and the staffs’ pre-event expectations, participants of the unplugged event did not seem to have experienced major issues with not having access to their cellular phones. A majority of the survey respondents (19 out of 26; about 73 percent) said they did not have a problem and did not even think about not having access to their cellular phones. The following showed the examples of those survey responses:

No problem.
So much stuff to do so you don’t even think about it.
Oh yeah that’s right, I forgot all about them.

Many participants used very positive expressions to describe how they experienced not using cellular phones during the trip and enjoyed the social interactions including shared activities with people they met there. The following quotes from the survey answers represented their pleasant experiences:

LOVED IT!!! Got to communicate traditionally just like our great ancestors!
It was a refreshing feeling. I didn’t really miss my phone as much as I missed my laptop, but I was enjoying talking to people so much that I didn’t really miss either.

Three participants brought up their previous experiences of not having access to phones and computers for a certain period of time. The event was relatively easier for them to manage because of their prior experiences. Another three participants mentioned what they learned from the experience and concluded that having a good time was possible without using mobile phones or laptops. Non-use of technologies seemed to have relieved some stress and let participants focus on what is going on in the moment:

I wondered what it would be like to have no contact with anyone other than who I was with but I loved it and realized you don’t need a phone or laptop to have a good time!
I LOVED IT! I need to get away from everything once in a while. More people should try it, maybe then people would be less stressed.
It was good, focused you on what was happening where you were at the time.

Interestingly, the first quote above showed that the participant lacked experiences of co-presence without being in constant contact with someone else possibly because the person was too accustomed to having access to the mobile phone. The third quote demonstrated how being in constant contact with remote others could be a distraction for co-present social interactions.

Two survey respondents mentioned that they were anxious at first about not having their cellular phones with them, but they became comfortable later as they experienced the trip more. Considering prior studies and popular discourses highlighting young people’s heavy reliance on mobile phones for their social interactions, the percentage of participants who expressed anxiety (i.e., two out of 27; about 7.4 percent) was smaller than expected:

Sort of anxious at first but after a while I hardly missed it.
It was scary at first, but as soon as we arrived there and began to do the different activities ... it was not bad at all.

One interviewee also mentioned that she felt anxious in the beginning of the trip due to the unavailability of checking time:

Interviewer: Did you feel any anxiety or you got anxious?
Interviewee: I did a little, (Interviewer: a little?) I did. It was something because I couldn’t check the time. I had no idea what time it was for like half of the trip.

What actually happened. The low percentage of participants who felt anxious might be partially due to the fact that several participants actually kept their cellular phones with them during the whole trip. On the way to the camp, the researcher noticed two male students, sitting across the aisle in the bus, were using their mobile phones. One was listening to music on his phone, which seemed to be an MP3 player. But later, the researcher found that the student brought his iPhone and even took it out on the second night when he was curious to find someone on Facebook. When asked why he did not leave the phone behind for the trip, he answered, “How do you know what would happen during the weekend?!” His friend also kept his phone with him and was spotted texting a few times on the way to the camp. The two participants were the youngest among all, being first year students and dorm mates with each other. Their behaviors and comments reflected strong attachments to their mobile phones.

Three female students who were close friends and participated in the event together also brought their cellular phones, but put them in their bags and mostly had them off during the trip. In the interview, two of them said that they did not expect many people would actually give up their phones while they could keep them to themselves without being seen by others. One interviewee said she forgot that she was not allowed to bring a cellular phone (while her friend pointed out that she told her about it clearly) and kept it for psychological security [12]. The other person said she took out her phone once to check the cellular reception at the camp.

Three survey respondents mentioned they needed cellular phones because they wanted to check the time or look up a word in a dictionary when they played board games:

I just wish I had it so I could check the time (but I guess I wound up making friends with the people who had watches!).
I needed a dictionary for Scrabble.

Being able to check time was the most highlighted and missed technical function of cellular phones during the trip. Three participants including the researcher, who were older and not typical college students, brought their wristwatches, and two interviewees said they always carry their wristwatch even when they could check time through their phones. The mobile phone was “competing with the wristwatch for older generations and supplementing it for younger generations” [13]. Many participants also mentioned that they wished they had smartphones with them to search the necessary information immediately during the trip.

Without access to cellular phones, it was difficult to micro-coordinate an instant meeting (Ling and Yttri, 2002). Annie and Mina, who were interviewed together, explained how they could not be with each other all the time because when they wanted to do different outdoor activities, they could neither check time nor call each other without their cellular phones. Use of cellular phones as an alarm clock, and possibly for an emergency, was highlighted especially when a female participant had a slight accident during sledding. Her two friends, Annie and Mina, who both kept their phones with them, had to take turns waking her up every two hours during the last night to make sure she did not have a concussion.

Dual perception of time

The post-event survey asked how participants experienced time while they were at the camp. Responses to the question about perception of time could be categorized into two opposite ends. One group of participants (n=13, 50 percent) said they felt that the time flew very quickly during the trip because there were so many activities to do and they were busy meeting new people. These participants said they did not have enough time to do all the available activities and to get to know every other participant. The following quotes represented the perception of time being short and swift during the trip:

It passed way too fast. When doing activities, all of a sudden we were being called to eat, and at night, time just flew by.
It felt like passing faster than usual probably because we’re doing a lot of fun activities and getting to know many new people.

Another group of participants (n=10, 38.5 percent) said they felt like time slowed down during the trip since they woke up early in the morning and had more time during the day. Some participants related this perception of slower time flow to not having cellular phones or watch to check time constantly. The following quotes showed how they perceived different temporality:

Time seemed to slow down because I was less aware of it without carrying a cell phone or watch.
Time went pretty slow I felt even though we did so many activities. I mean that in a good way though.

Two interviewees clearly mentioned that they felt more relaxed and less harried during the trip and one of them associated the experience of time with not having the phone:

I think I like not having the phone; because the phone every time I look at it, I’ll be like ‘oh I have to go back, I have to do this, it’s this time, I have to get that done.’ At least not having the phone made it seem like nothing mattered. I have no responsibility, like nothing else existed except what I was doing in that moment.

Among the participants who felt like the time passed slowly during the trip, there were a few who also acknowledged that the whole weekend went by rather quickly. Thus, these participants seemed to have experienced both aspects of time perception during the unplugged trip:

It seemed to slow down. There was so much to do that the day seemed to go very fast yet at the same time, it was a slow pace.

Another dual aspect of time perception could be found in responses to the open-ended survey. While one participant specifically mentioned that the unplugging offered an experience of “communicating traditionally like our ancestors,” a few commented about being able to focus on and enjoy the immediate moment. Therefore, there was a sense of history (i.e., ancestors) and immediacy that consisted of another dual temporality, which resonated with the researcher’s experience as well.

Before leaving for the trip, the researcher had to make several phone calls and send out text messages to inform people about being out of reach during the weekend. Listening to the news about citizen’s uprising in Egypt and informing people via mobile phones simultaneously, the researcher felt very hectic while packing for the trip. However, the moment the researcher closed the glove compartment where she left her cellular phone during the trip, and hopped onto the bus to the camp, she felt like entering into a completely different world, shutting a door behind and disconnected from the rest. As the researcher fully immersed into the setting while interacting with other participants via casual conversations and shared activities, she felt as if she returned back to her college period. Thus, not having access to the mobile phone and Internet for 48 hours seemed to have provided an opportunity to experience various aspects of time flow and temporality.

 

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Discussion

Forty-eight hours of being unplugged was a unique, fun, and satisfactory experience for many participants. Quite contrary to the earlier expectations and concerns about young people’s dependency on mobile phones for their social interactions and its consequential impact on face-to-face communication (Hall and Baym, 2011), participants did not seem to have experienced any major social dislocations during the trip. A number of participants acknowledged that they felt anxious and different during the initial phase of the trip, but they adjusted quickly to the situation, participating in diverse physical activities while interacting with co-present others. Based on the researcher’s experience of the trip as a participant-observer, and the in-depth interviews conducted afterwards, it seemed that the participants rediscovered the value of unmediated, embodied communication without being interrupted by mediated communication for the duration of the trip. Many participants mentioned that they were pleasantly surprised by how easily they bonded with one another, and the event coordinator, with years of experience as a camp counselor and recreation coordinator, also confirmed that he had rarely seen any group that bonded this well [14]. Most interviewees agreed that the social bonding across different groups of people would have been impossible — and the trip would have been less enjoyable — if they had regular access to the media [15].

The reasons that participants could rediscover the unique aspects of non-mediated communication seemed to be closely related to the various activities offered during the trip. Almost everyone commented about how they enjoyed participating in those activities when they otherwise might have been bored and uncomfortable being out of touch. Nardi and Whittaker (2002) pointed out that one clearly unique aspect of face-to-face communication, compared to mediated communication, is the use of the body. They criticized the predominant “bandwidth” metaphor of computer-mediated communication research by pointing out that face-to-face communication was perceived as the gold standard mostly because of its capability of delivering non-verbal cues during interaction. What Nardi and Whittaker found from their interviews with distributed workers, who relied on various communication technologies for their tasks and social interactions, was that in-person communication was unique not just because it was the richest medium, but also because it brought people’s bodies together in a co-located situation where touch, eating and drinking together, and management of attention was possible. Nardi (2005) also emphasized the relational aspects of face-to-face communication, instead of information exchange, by suggesting three unique characteristics: affinity, commitment, and attention. The participants of the unplugged trip created a “communication zone” (Nardi, 2005) within a relatively short amount of time thanks to the availability of shared physical activities in each other’s co-presence, without being interrupted by any sort of mediated interactions. In each social interaction during the trip, participants received more attention from one another while interacting in-person, which carries a sense of affectionate emotion and commitment towards one another. All of these together facilitated social bonding of the group members.

The fact that some participants still kept their mobile phones with them, even when they were prohibited, reiterated previous research findings as well as the popular image of college students as incapable of being separated from their mobile phones (Baron, 2011; Turkle, 2010). Many young people had mostly positive attitudes towards mobile phone use and the flexibility and freedom afforded by it in their daily lives (Thulin and Vilhelmson, 2010). Although a majority of survey respondents did not report any problem about being unplugged, some participants clearly experienced anxiety at first; this was especially true for those who did not remember that they were not allowed to bring cellular phones. Thus, those students were not prepared psychologically for the situation.

Several participants’ cellular phones were taken away en route to the camp, put in a large trash bag, and kept by the event coordinator, Mike, until Sunday morning. One participant tried to get her phone back by talking to Mike upon confiscation, but was unsuccessful. In her interview, she said having her phone taken away was quite unsettling to her and made her think about how others, who she normally contacts through texting and phone calls, would react if they did not hear from her or she did not answer their calls/texts. Therefore, the results of this field experiment did not contradict the perception that some people are closely attached to their mobile phones and that we are living in an era of “perpetual contact” (Katz and Aakhus, 2002). The mobile phone could be considered as an extension of our mind (Turkle, 2010) and body (Katz, 2003; Oksman and Rautiainen, 2003, 2006), so it made us feel uncomfortable when we could not readily reach others through it. What we might be able to suggest rather carefully out of this one observational study though was when people were willing to let go of their mobile phones and voluntarily disconnect themselves from the Internet, there came a chance to rediscover the characteristics of co-present interactions: sharing humor, finding common grounds, and uses of the body. Using humor and common grounds more or less could be observed in any mediated interpersonal communication, but touching and sharing physical activities would be hard to replicate yet with the current state of technological development.

Ling and Campbell (2010) discussed the meanings of the personalization of mobile media by pointing out how the technology is increasingly tied to an individual user (Light, 2010; Ling, 2008) to the extent that the boundary between the artifact and the human subject is blurred (Katz, 2003). The fact that many participants of the event could not be “physically” separated from their mobile phones (even for 48 hours) reflected this trend of personalization and psychological ownership to the material object. One interviewee’s comment resonated well with the trend of personalization:

... so guess it was kind of like psychological, it’s mine [emphasis added]. I don’t want to give it to anyone; like I’m an adult, I won’t use it, but I’d rather be with me, so I just like put it in my bag and zipped it and that was it.

The impact of using information and communication technologies (ICTs) on people’s perceptions and experiences of time has been researched (Castells, et al., 2006; Green, 2002; Lash and Urry, 1994; Southerton, 2003), but empirical studies lacked for the particular case of mobile phone uses (Green and Haddon, 2009). Some research found that mobile phone users perceived that they managed their schedules more efficiently and flexibly through their mobile phone usage; however, others found that mobile phone users felt more time pressure partially due to the sheer amount of information available and the possibility of multitasking, which intensifies people’s experiences of time (Green and Haddon, 2009). The results of the current study supported the latter conclusion more; that is, the mobile phone usage contributes to the feeling of a stress and faster pace of life because many reported being relaxed and able to enjoy the trip by not having to check their schedules and time constantly through their phones. The relaxation, felt by the participants, seemed to come also from not having to (or not being able to) “squeeze time” for micro-coordinating (Ling and Yttri, 2002) schedules with people through the mobile device (Southerton, 2003). Nevertheless, it should be noted that the unavailability of mobile phones was not the only reason why participants evaluated their experiences mostly positive. Participants’ pleasant experiences, with the particular group of people and of the shared activities, could be intensified by the fact that their social interactions were not disrupted by the use of ICTs.

While discussing the implications of mobile communication in reconstructing space and time, Ling and Campbell (2010) enriched Castells’ theoretical concepts of “the space of flows” and “timeless time” by showing how the spatio-temporal changes in the networked age could be extended to the wireless context. The collective research findings in their edited volume highlighted how modern spaces, such as global cities or coffee shops with wi-fi access, took on new meanings with the possibility of sustaining the networked flow of information and communication. In addition, several studies (e.g., Arminen, 2010; Ito, et al., 2010) brought attention to “how time plays a multi-faceted role in networked sociability by playing a formative role in the space of flows” [16]. Given the fact that the participants of the unplugged event experienced the reverse of the space of flows and timeless time by not having the constant access to the mediated communication, it is understandable why some of them experienced a saliently different perception of time during the trip. Without participating in an ongoing flow of multiple modes of communication, which renders time timeless by de-sequencing and compressing it, participants have been pushed back to an earlier state of the networked society at least for those 48 hours.

In addition, Green’s (2002) concept of mobile temporality and Lefebvre’s (2004) rhythm analysis could illuminate the findings in terms of dual perception of time during the unplugged trip. Green argued that a number of dimensions in time and space are reconstructed by mobile communication while situating his argument in a broader change of modern society such as social relationships became “fragmented spatial and temporal connections” [17]. He suggested three interconnected domains of mobile time based on ethnographic research: rhythms of mobile use, rhythms of mobile use integrated in everyday life, and rhythms of mobility and institutional change. When discussing time taken interacting with a mobile device first, Green found evidence for shorter duration and sequencing of conversations enabled by mobile communication; however, the time spent interacting with a particular person via mobile communication also contributed to extending and continuing the social relationship at the same time. Using mobile devices for flexible organizations of daily activities also represented double sides of a coin because one earns a sense of control, but a permanent connection to work simultaneously. At an institutional level, mobile time has become a commodity for mobile industry as consumers pay for their time spent on mobile communication (Green, 2002).

Multiple kinds of rhythms exist in daily life, and there are various ways of differentiating them such as natural/corporeal vs. mechanistic/machine rhythm or social vs. biological rhythm [18] (Lefebvre, 2004). Adam (2004) notes social time is “structure, temporality, timing, tempo and rhythmicity” in her differentiation among body, clock, and social time [19]. “Rhythm appears as regulated time, governed by rational laws, but in contact with what is least rational in human being: the lived, the carnal, the body” [20]. Mobile phones were not as prevalent media as nowadays in Lefebvre’s time, but his description about the relationship between the media and everyday rhythm shed light on participants’ experiences of unplugging and its impact on their perception of time flow. The media produced various rhythms such as “light-hearted” one when people go to work in the morning, and “soft and tender” one when returning from work in the evening or during weekends of relaxation (Lefebvre, 2004). Considering the mass media like television and radio in mind, Lefebvre criticized that media or the process of mediation itself not only “effaced the immediate moment, but also effaced dialogue,” which he defined as “intense moments of communication” [21].

Therefore, participants of the unplugged event seemed to have experienced different kinds of rhythms (i.e., pace of life or temporality) during that weekend. Their social and biological rhythms during unplugging might have been different compared to those of regular weekdays on campus when they were in constant connection via smartphones. Those different bodily rhythms and social rhythms have made them perceive time differently. How they experienced time during the unplugged trip was the intersection between the change in cyclic rhythms (i.e., seasonal change, day, month) and the change in linear rhythms (i.e., social and human activities) (Lefebvre, 2004). The fact that the trip was during “weekend,” when the rhythm of life felt slower than weekdays provided slower perception of time. In the mean time, many activities available at the camp were different from what students did usually on campus and they were not so repetitive; thus, engaging in those activities made them feel time went by rather quickly. Moreover, participants of the unplugged trip experienced “dialogue” rather than “communication,” in Lefebvre’s sense, without the interruption of mediated communication during their embodied social interactions.

The findings from the unplugged weekend trip partially supported the critiques offered by Baron (2008, 2011) and Turkle (2010, 2011) in terms of what and how much we lost when we became too mobile. Both authors raised concerns about personal and social consequences of being always on; due to constant interruptions and increasing volumes of mediated communication such as e-mail messages and mobile phone calls, people’s attentions were divided and it became harder to engage in meaningful interactions with others in-person. According to the researchers, we might be losing the ability to make simple, genuine connections with actual human beings by spending too much time in technologically mediated interactions. Turkle (2010) contended about how being always tethered via communication technologies might lead us to “being less reflective, more harried, and eventually dependent on relational artifacts such as talking robots than relationships with humans” [22]. However, the current study was a one-time observation of a relatively short period of “voluntary” disconnection from the media. Therefore, we could not claim that the participants would experience the same pleasure of untethering if the trip was longer or was repeated.

The self-selected group of participants of the unplugged trip seemed to have enjoyed the novel experiences of voluntary disconnection from their mobile phones. Many of them appreciated the change of pace they experienced during the weekend and were willing to try again the similar event. Nevertheless, nearly one-third of those, who were most likely to try this kind of disconnection, were actually reluctant to give up totally the perpetual contact mobile phones afforded them to keep in touch with the larger world, which told us something about the deeper level of human desire for connectivity. It was much like that we go for camping in the wood to experience the wilderness of nature for a short period, but not many of us would want to go back to the stone ages of human living forever.

Gergen (2002) argued about the unique aspects of mobile communication in its new integrations of the absent and the present. Whereas preceding mass media such as television, radio, or movies eroded face-to-face community, “a coherent and centered sense of self, moral bearings, and depth of relationships” by expanding absent presence, the mobile phone served to “revitalize the realities and moralities of the interpersonal relationships” [23]. With the cellular phone, “one’s community of intimates more effectively sustains one’s identity as a singular and coherent being” [24]. The participants of the unplugged trip enjoyed being freed from this continuous intrusion of obligations, standards, and expectations of one’s intimate networks that used mobile phones to keep people in the loop. But it was exactly those intimate ties to our close circle of people from whom we were afraid to be disconnected even just for 48 hours.

Limitations

There were limitations to be noted about what could be concluded from this study. First of all, the participants of this event were not a representative sample of college students, and there was a chance that the students who participated were more willing to experience this type of event than others. In fact, it was likely that the people who signed up for this event were already prepared and desirous to try going unplugged. This was strongly suggested by the fact that many survey respondents expressed that they were excited about the event before they left. Sampling bias would certainly have a consequential effect on participants’ experiences. Second, due to the limited scope of the researcher’s observations, not every scene of the event could be captured in this study. The researchers’ interests in observing dynamics of social grouping and participants’ detailed physical movement (such as their hand gestures when without a mobile phone) could not be addressed. Finally, biases of the observer could not be ruled out in describing participants’ social interactions.

 

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Conclusion

Awareness of the possible impact of heavy reliance on mobile phones seems to be increasing in American society. For example in March 2014, a non-profit organization, Reboot, organized the fifth annual National Day of Unplugging. During that event, an author in the New Yorker (Cep, 2014) argued that the point of the unplugging experiment is not to give up access to technologies altogether, but to earn a refreshed perspective and to use them in better ways. Based on the findings of this study and the relevant social debate, it is recommended for anyone to experience a short-term voluntary disconnection from mobile phones or the Internet and to reflect on what is different in everyday life. One might get to cherish conversing with people more, feel less harried, but could also become very appreciative of communication technologies in how they connect us to the world and to our beloved people. End of article

 

About the authors

Sun Kyong Lee is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Oklahoma.
E-mail: sunklee [at] ou [dot] edu

James E. Katz is Feld Family Professor of Emerging Media in the School of Communication, Division of Emerging Media Studies at Boston University.
E-mail: katz2020 [at] bu [dot] edu

 

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge Dr. Lea Stewart and William Fox at Rutgers University for their help in arranging the unplugged weekend trip and collecting data for this study.

 

Notes

1. Civil inattention refers to demonstrated awareness of co-present strangers without directly engaging in a threatening or overly friendly manner. It allows for the sharing of communal space without imposition and makes individuals available to one another in times of need, such as asking for directions. The use of mobile media in public settings is altering the extent to which civil inattention is practiced in modern society (Ling and Campbell, 2010, p. 257).

2. Ling, 2008, p. 115.

3. Ling, 2008, p. 113.

4. The issue of relationship management with co-present others while using mobile phones was also addressed in many other studies in a broader context of negotiation between public and private space (Campbell, 2007; Green and Haddon, 2009; Humphreys, 2005; Light, 2010; Ling, 1997, 2004).

5. Thulin and Vilhelmson, 2010, p. 154.

6. The recreation department of the university announced about the event through its Web site and made some efforts to recruit participants through its Facebook and Twitter accounts. Participants of the event said they got to know about it either through the Web site or through their friends who saw the event announcement on the site.

7. In order to provide a chance to meet new people during the trip, some possible activities for team building and the physical layout of the camp — whether it would allow people to bump into strangers — were discussed. The main coordinator, who had worked as a camp counselor at YMCA for several years, confirmed that it would not be a problem.

8. http://www1.recreation.rutgers.edu/Events/eventView.asp?EventID=141, accessed 26 November 2014.

9. We noticed that some students who participated in the pre-event meeting did not actually show up for the trip. During the pre-event meeting, we observed that many students started looking at their cellular phones as soon as they arrived at the meeting location, texting someone while they were waiting for their friends to join or constantly checking their smartphones while they had co-present others sitting right next to them.

10. This might be relevant to the increased flexibility in organizing social meetings and travels by the use of mobile phones (Green and Haddon, 2009; Haddon and Kim, 2007; Ito, 2005; Ling and Yttri, 2002). Meeting times can be adjusted on the way, informing of delay, negotiating the meeting place and people included, and rescheduling by texting in order to avoid confrontation and give more time to think. It is possible that they did not worry because they kept their cellular phones with them during the trip or they did not think about it much since they were already used to carrying the mobile phone very much and have not thought about the consequences of not having it or the necessity of being prepared for emergency.

11. However, the researcher found later that many participants updated their Facebook status before leaving for the trip to inform people of their weekend getaway. From their status messages, it seemed clear that many of them had a great excitement and curiosity about the trip and clearly indicated the main characteristic of the trip being “unplugged.” The following are some examples of their status messages:

Going on a technology-free weekend retreat up at the Delaware water gap. Hopefully I don’t experience iPhone withdrawal ...;
Won’t be having my phone or laptop this weekend, going on a trip ... Will be back Sunday afternoon ... Deuces =)
Farewell to the cruel technology world! I wont see you again ... But just for the next 50 hours ... Going to have fun this weekend!

12. She said, “I also partially took out my phone, because you know in scary movies, things happen, you would call someone, I was like as stupid as it sounds, I would take my cell just in case, ... so guess it was kind of like psychological ...” [Annie, senior, female]

13. Ling, 2004, p. 69.

14. The coordinator reported this in e-mail correspondence with the researcher after the event.

15. Another interviewee mentioned that he has participated in several other group trips that lasted two or three weeks, which is much longer than the duration of the unplugged trip, but that the kind of social bonding he experienced through this trip had never happened on those trips. He also evaluated the quality of interaction among participants very positively and said it would have been very different if we had access to cellular phones during the trip. [Mark, senior, male]

16. Ling and Campbell, 2010, p. 254.

17. Green, 2002, p. 282.

18. Whenever there is an “interaction between a place, time, and expenditure of energy,” Lefebvre (2004) said there is rhythm (p. xv).

19. Adam, 2004, p. 101.

20. Lefebvre, 2004, p. 9.

21. Lefebvre, 2004, p. 49.

22. Turkle, 2010, p. 133.

23. Gergen, 2002, pp. 236-237.

24. Gergen, 2002, p. 238.

 

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Editorial history

Received 10 November 2013; revised 2 September 2014; revised 23 September 2014; accepted 30 November 2014.


Copyright © 2014, First Monday.
Copyright © 2014, Sun Kyong Lee and James E. Katz.

Disconnect: A case study of short-term voluntary mobile phone non-use
by Sun Kyong Lee and James E. Katz.
First Monday, Volume 19, Number 12 - 1 December 2014
http://www.firstmonday.dk/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4935/4183
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v19i12.4935





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