Make Conversation not War!

We were happy to welcome Jenny and James this term to volunteer with Open Circle as a practicum for a course in non-violence. They helped to lead activities in our weekly Tech Free Zone. At the same time, they were observing and reflecting on how Open Circle fosters a community of peace.  Here are some excerpts from the final papers that they wrote for their course:

Once a week the “Tech Free Zone” converts the clubs lounge of the McMaster student center into an area free of modern technology such as laptops and cell phones. … There is a focus on themes of personal awareness and community, trust building exercises, games and icebreakers.

One of the very persistent urges I experienced during the tech free activities was to grab my cell phone. This urge presented itself whenever I was away from a group or maybe said something stupid. It brought me to the realization that I relied very heavily on my phone as a security blanket against uncomfortable situations. This desire to retreat into our electronic devices severely hinders our ability to be aware of our surroundings and changes the way we interact. Before the scheduled tech free time there was always an abundance of technology in the clubs lounge and the groups of students in the lounge were very separated. Once the tech free program started the entire space was incredibly different.  There was much more conversation and I found myself unable to retreat into my cell phone. In the end I collected many enjoyable experiences because of my mindfulness to my surroundings.

Through helping with Tech Free zone, I became aware of the fact we tend to hide behind technology in social situations instead of being interactive with one another.  On the bus, waiting in line, on an elevator, the first thing people tend to do is whip out their phone, iPad or some other costly piece of plastic.  Naturally, as a science student, I started to experiment with it a little.  For example, I stopped listening to music on the bus and started sparking conversations with random people next to me and I noticed instantly that those in the younger demographic were a little uncomfortable with spontaneous discussion and often retreated to their phones, whereas people that belonged to a older demographic were much more engaging and almost appreciative of a friendly conversation with a stranger. I think the difference in the exposure to and use of technology plays a role in the different responses I experienced. (Jenny)

After ruminating on the issue I discovered that the way we have come to rely on technology to communicate is more a crutch than a tool. This is not to say that technology is not without its uses but that we are beginning to lose many aspects of communication because of it. Conversation like any other skill becomes stronger the more it is used, and due to the rise in text and email use it is very likely that this skill for many will start to deteriorate. The implications of this in terms of non-violence are widespread and numerous. If we become distanced by technology from each other, if we do not feel connected would this not lead to a rise in cultural violence? If I am able to pick up my phone and ignore a homeless man or a person next to me on the bus because of their pain or because they look like they want to talk to me, does this not constitute a slight towards my fellow humans? Is this a way of allowing myself to allow a violent culture to continue to be violent?

The tech free program has a message as much for its community as it does for its participants, to be aware and mindful of what one's gadgets are doing to one's behavior and interaction. It communicates this message not by shouting at people in the halls to join, or by abrasive questions or signup sheets to hold people to a commitment. It accomplishes its goal in a manner truly non-violent: by creating an atmosphere that is warm and welcoming and fun.  It shows the faults of technology not by dwelling on the negative aspects of it, but by highlighting the positive aspects of a technology free environment. This to me is one of the core methods of non-violence: a path of persuasion not coercion. (James)