In recent years, I’ve noticed my life becoming more and more tied to my iPhone, laptop, and social networks and less focused on my actual present surroundings. I always liked to think I was pretty well aware of this fact, and I definitely didn’t like it. But did I do anything about it? Not really.
That’s why I recently made the bold decision to give up my laptop.
Actually, that’s a lie. Technically, that could have been the reason I left it at a bar, but my memory of that night is impaired, so it’s a mystery.
In college, laptops are everywhere. It seems essential these days to have some kind of laptop, or maybe at least a tablet, to get you through school. I don’t think I’m the only one who can say that I formed a close personal bond with my computer. Between the late nights we spent together writing essays and watching entire seasons of New Girl on Netflix, we’d been through a lot together. Thousands of songs, thousands of pictures, and countless documents were saved on my computer, and if you’d asked me whether I could get through college without it, I probably would have said no.
The first thing people ask me when I tell my story is, “Why did you have your backpack at a bar?” I’d like to say it was with me because I’m that dedicated to my schoolwork, but it was actually with me because I went to the bar straight from class. In my defense, I had turned 21 only two weeks before, and it was a sunny day right before the dreaded finals week. What better time to get a beer or two outside in the sun with friends?
It was a harmless plan until I just didn’t leave. “A beer or two” turned into some unknown number of drinks (I lost count) and by the time I finally left, I neglected to bring my backpack home with me. Before I realized that I’d left it, I passed out on my bed, only to wake up at 4:30AM in a panic. I did everything I could to find it over the span of the next few days, but it’s pretty clear that somebody took it, and I can’t say I blame them.
After dealing with the disbelief that I’d done something so stupid, the dread of telling my parents what happened, and the reality that it really wasn’t going to turn up, all I could do was move on. I went to the library to get all my work done, and it really wasn’t so bad. Immediately, I felt like I was learning a lot from this experience, and here’s what I want to share:
1. It’s important to take responsibility for your actions.
I think many of us have, to some degree, a “bad things won’t happen to us” attitude. During the stressful morning after discovering I lost my belongings (my backpack had not only my laptop but also my wallet, keys, textbook, notebooks, and—gasp—my favorite Chapstick), I was thinking out loud to the universe: “OK, I’ve learned my lesson. I know I need to be more careful with drinking, so now can I have it back, please?” At first, I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. But I accepted that it was 100% preventable and my fault. I called my mom and told her I made a stupid mistake. I focused on dealing with the situation. It felt good to do that. We’re all human and we need to admit our mistakes to ourselves so we can learn from them.
2. Perspective changes everything.
I was definitely upset when this happened, but right away I understood that it really wasn’t a big deal. Taking a step back and looking at the big picture helped me see that. I only lost a few belongings, even if the laptop happened to be the most expensive thing I owned. Some people lose everything. Many people have much less than I have in the first place. This was nowhere near the most upsetting thing to happen in my life, but the fact that it was the biggest problem I had at the time made me feel like my life was pretty great. In a way, the incident got me focusing on the positive and important things I have in my life, which almost left me happier than I was before it happened. Keeping a positive attitude made all the difference.
3. We place too much value on our possessions.
I’m one of those people who has spent hours building up and perfecting my iTunes library—getting new music, organizing it, and making playlists. So naturally I’m bummed that I lost a lot of music and pictures from my laptop. However, the quality of my life has not changed whatsoever without them. I now see that all that time I spent on the music really wasn’t necessary—I still have some music on my phone and what’s important is the enjoyment it brings me. I truly do not need anything that I lost, and realizing that has been freeing. I got through finals week without having my own laptop, and I still have yet to buy a new one because I’m doing fine without it. The most important thing we have in life is each other. Nothing we own is as important as the people we love and surround ourselves with.
4. Technology should enhance our lives, not BE our lives.
I feel very passionate about this. With the abundance of social networks available to us and the increasing presence of smartphones and laptops in our daily lives, I believe that we can tend to lose touch with reality. It’s as if we’re creating virtual lives for ourselves, and all the time we spend in these “lives” is time that we could be spending living more fully. I did a lot on my laptop, and I enjoyed organizing things and having a lot of personal stuff all together in one portable piece of metal. Now, without it, I’ve only used a computer when I absolutely needed one because I don’t have such easy access to one. I’m spending more time in my surroundings instead of in my own world—even though I’m generally a thinker who is sometimes lost in my own thoughts anyway. I haven’t wasted time on a computer since then! (My iPhone, on the other hand, is a different story.)
I do have plans to purchase a new laptop due to plans to attend graduate school, but I aim to spend less time on it and give it less personal value. After all, it’s just a machine, and I have wonderful people in my life who are more deserving of my time.