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by Derek Loosvelt | May 23, 2019


Dear Graduates,

I have some good news for you, and some bad news. First the good news.

You're entering the hottest job market in fifty years. Not since the Summer of Love have so many Americans (as a percentage of the total eligible working U.S. population) been gainfully employed. Small companies are hiring. Large companies are hiring. And perhaps never in the history of the U.S. have the barriers to entry been lower to start your own business. Today, all you need is a phone and an Internet connection (and at least an okay idea) and you can hang a digital shingle and start offering your goods and/or services for sale.

Here's the bad news. In addition to a very hot labor market, you're also graduating into a very hot climate, literally. What I mean is there is a climate crisis. There is also a student debt crisis, mental health crisis, drug crisis, misinformation crisis, and there might very well be a constitutional crisis. The point is, although you're likely to land gainful employment upon graduation, your working and personal lives will be anything but easy. What's more, billions of people (as well as a four-and-a-half-billion-year-old planet) are counting on you to solve some pretty significant problems.

That said, I have faith in you. I believe in you. I know that you're more than capable and up to the task.

I also know that these crises you're inheriting are not of your own making. They're the making of the generations that came before you. And so, on behalf of all of those generations, let me say: I'm truly sorry that we've been asleep at the gas-guzzling, air-polluting, deregulating wheel and haven't done more. I know this doesn't help much. But perhaps the below will.

What I'd like to leave you with today is not advice; you’re likely up to your four-pointed hats in advice. What I want to leave you with is a challenge. If you prefer, call it a recommendation. Whatever you'd like to call it (even if it's NSFW) I implore you to do it. It might just help you help yourself. And then help you help the world (and yes, that would include me and my slacker generation, too). In any case, here goes.

Completely unplug for one week. No smartphone, no laptop, no Apple Watch, no desktop, no email, no social media.

Let me explain.

I'll be the first to admit that I love my so-called smartphone. I love that it has an excellent camera. I love that I can check email and work on my phone without having to be tethered to a desk or an office. And I do love social media, Instagram in particular. However, I also despise my smartphone and despise social media, Instagram in particular.

In other words, I believe my phone and social media accounts are at once angels as well as devils.

Maybe you've noticed the same thing. Perhaps you, too, love keeping in touch with friends around the world, reading news and advice and inspirational quotes, and laying your eyes on the beauty that this planet has managed to maintain despite our worst efforts—as well as capturing that beauty with your phone’s excellent camera.

However, you’ve also noticed that maybe you don’t need a constant stream of dopamine in the form of "Likes" shot into your brain, minute after minute, in order to survive. And maybe you don’t need all that extra-envy in your life which you get by scrolling through moment after moment of the over-edited lives of friends and so-called celebrities.

Further, you’ve noticed that news notifications that pop up on your phones all day can be distracting to downright annoying. You’ve wondered: Is it really necessary to know the split second that Golden State wins another NBA championship? Is it important enough news to interrupt me while I’m having an intimate conversation with a friend, dreaming up a new product idea, working on my cover letter, writing my next business plan? Can't I read about it tomorrow? Or never (if I’m not interested in crossover dribbles and triple doubles)?

What I'm trying to say is technology is amazing and can improve our lives. And yet it is also distracting, a time waster, and can kill our best impulses, slowly but surely, without us even realizing it. Which I'm sure you've heard before. But which is worth repeating again.

Here's another question for you: Did you know that the "Father of Virtual Reality," one of the computer scientists who worked on early versions of the Internet, recently wrote a book called Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now?

It's true. Though, I'm not recommending you do that. But I do think it's wise to attempt to get off all screens and devices and social media accounts for a short period of time, if only to understand what they’re doing to you and for you. The good as well as the bad. And I think one week will do it. But it has to be an entire week, without as much as checking your email.

Of course, to create conditions in which you can try this won't be easy (perhaps it will be more difficult than the challenge itself). You will need to notify friends and family members of your undertaking ahead of time, and maybe managers and teachers, too. But I truly believe it will all be worth it and people will be understanding of your endeavor.

It's also very possible that, this summer, before you begin your first full-time job, you won’t be able to unplug like this again. Ever. Never. Not even when you vacation on Iceland, or in Indonesia, or in South Africa. Really. This could be your last unplugged hurrah.

As for what will happen if you do follow through on this challenge, I don't want to color your experience too much with my own thoughts on the subject. But I will say this: I suspect that you will emerge from your monastery of no screens and social media a changed person. One with some new perspectives. One who might know how to use the positive side of technology better. One who might know how to use the dark side of technology less. One who, at the very least, might learn how to use a landline phone.

One more thing: During your screen-and-social-free week, ask yourself some questions from time to time: What am I thinking about and is it any different from last week? What am I talking about and is it any different from last week? What am I doing and is it any different from last week? And how am I feeling and is it any different from last week?

You might even want to keep a log of the answers to these questions. Maybe write down other thoughts, too. Poetry, business ideas, career goals, plans. In a notebook, of course. Not on your phone.

And if you don’t take on this challenge, that’s fine, too. But maybe the above will remind you, once you do land your dream job in this job seeker’s market, that you, and not your devices, are in charge of your life and career.

Congratulations, Class of 2019. Again, I believe in you. Good luck, and good fortune.