News from Wyoming Catholic College

Hamlet's Blackberry and Wyoming Catholic College

Byline: by Jonathan Tonkowich

Posted: August 2, 2010

Wyoming Catholic College has a very unusual rule on our campus here in Lander: “No Cell Phones.”

It doesn’t stop there, either. Our students are also asked to forgo such technological luxuries as internet and television in their dorms rooms. After reading this, one might assume that we have a constant riot on our hands or that we have no students. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. After a (surprisingly brief) period of adjustment, our students grow to love the policy, and lament those times when they leave the College, finding themselves once again sucked into a culture of connectedness.

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In William Powers new book, “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Guide for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age,” Powers explores how one can find the good life amongst the constant busyness and connectedness. His solution is to disconnect. Every weekend his family takes an “Internet Sabbath.” Powers explains, “We turn off the household modem, and we don't have smart phones, so therefore we can't get [in] our inboxes the whole weekend. We can't do Web surfing. We can still call, we can still text — but we're not really texting addicts. We really enter this other zone, and it's wonderful.”

Unfortunately for most of us, an “Internet Sabbath” can only really last for a few days before we need to reconnect. However, our students are privileged to take an “Internet Sabbath” for 4 years, which allows them to have real, meaningful communications with one another and to devote intense study to the greatest written works of all time -- all without being constantly distracted by the seemingly endless array of text messages, emails, or blog posts.

However, Powers (and WCC) are not trying to dismiss all technology; ours is not a Luddite existence. As Powers says, "it’s easy to blame all this on the tools. Too easy. These tools are fantastically useful and enrich our lives in countless ways. Like all new technologies, they have flaws, but at bottom they can’t make us busy until we make them busy first. We’re the prime movers here. We’re always connected because we’re always connecting."

Here at WCC, we're all about connecting. But our students are connecting with the greatest ideas and thinkers the world has ever known. And they can't use their cell phones or Blackberry to do that.

As the emergency contact for the college, my cell phone is glued to my hip at all times, and I have noticed how easy it is to become a slave to it. However, I will soon be departing on my own “Internet Sabbath,” joining our incoming freshman class for 3 weeks in the Wind River Mountains on their NOLS Expedition. I will be away from cell phones, internet, and television, and I know that the true peace and quiet of the mountains will be the perfect opportunity for me to focus on human relationships and on my relationship with Our Lord.

Jonathan Tonkowich is the Dean of Student Life at Wyoming Catholic College.