Across campus, we walk around with our cell phones in our hands and headphones on our ears. In our cafés and dining halls, we like to pretend that we’re not alone when dining solo so we keep our cell phones and computers on the table, ignoring the restaurant filled with people.
Ironically, the rise of social media has made self-induced alienation even easier, and we often don’t realize how ridiculous it makes us look. We don’t hear our friends calling to us because our ear buds clog our ear canals. We don’t notice a trashcan in our path because our eyes are hyper-focused on our text message. We talk to the air because our cell phones have put voices in our heads. Not only are we becoming more antisocial, we’re also becoming ignorant and desensitized to the beauty beyond our LED screens. The prizes, tools and social lubricants of Generation 2.0 provide us with many advantages that I, for one, am happy to enjoy in moderation. Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t look up from your text and take off your headphones every once in a while, you could wander past heavenly Aphrodite and into cross-town traffic.
Students sleepwalking around campus is just one example of social media and mobile technology blocking out the rest of our worlds. We see similar examples everywhere. People text while driving, pooping and hooking up. People social network during real conversations, parties and adventures. They’re all distracting from the main task at hand. Multitasking is an illusion. We merely divide our attention between our different tasks. For the growing ADHD community, that attention span is already stressed. But really, this message is for all of us: We can only naturally do one thing at once, yet we go against our nature and stress our minds beyond their capabilities. I’m all for pressing the limits and bounds of one’s brain to expand its power, but when we repeatedly fail, as we have with multitasking, we must reassess.
In the stream-anywhere media world of today, we’ve become accustomed to a constant source of external stimulation. We’ve already observed how we love to go everywhere perpetually plugged in. However, even when we go nowhere — when we first wake up in the morning, for example — we can satisfy our appetite for stimulation just by grabbing our cell phones or computers. We can work, socialize and play all from the comfort of our beds. So why leave? If a life can be lived without actual human contact, why not live that life? It would certainly be more comfortable and convenient.
I think we choose not to because we strive for human contact. We desire real relationships based on face-to-face interactions. Every other social medium (texting, Facebook messaging, tweeting, etc.) is just an insufficient substitution trying to imitate real human interactions and failing to capture their virtue. Real conversations and real relationships can be stressful, uncomfortable and problematic, but they’re getting even harder because Generation 2.0 has learned to socialize largely through social media and has consequently become socially inept.
Are we just lazy? Do we fear real relationships? Are we reflecting on our behavior and aiming to improve ourselves, or are we satisfied with what we’re doing because society considers it normal? So what then? You’re afraid of getting a little weird? Shame on you.
To concede, there are plenty of reasons to alienate one’s self from the world. It can be an ugly, disgusting place. I mean look at it — it’s filled with rape, murder and disease. So if we’re thinking about reasons to drop out of society, there are plenty that you could find convincing. But I don’t think many of us are really thinking about what we’re doing. We’re creatures of habit. But if you decide to think about it, you’ll probably realize that escaping the world’s ugliness and evil through electronics does not prove very successful. I’ve found it tends to be the opposite, because the media loves to focus on the evil and ugly.
Lastly, understand that your world, your life, in all that is excellent and mundane, is beautiful. Pay more attention to the natural beauty, even the everyday beauty we see walking to class like the hot dog stand, the Chemistry Building, the squirrel, the coffee cup. Yes, it is the little things. Wake up! Tune into them. Please turn off your cellular devices and drop back into the non-cyber world. If we’re always listening to our music, we’re missing the opportunity to truly listen and interact. Assess your habits. Are your devices becoming your vices? Are you doing what you’re doing deliberately? Or are you just a lemming nearing the edge of the cliff? Listen — is that the sound of oncoming traffic headed your way? Wake up. Look out.
Zak Witus is an LSA freshman.