We know it’s wistful to imagine you reading this article straight out of our 16-page broadsheet newspaper, sitting in a leather chair by the fire. Realistically, we know you’re more likely reading it on our website, perhaps on your smartphone or tablet. Maybe you followed a link we featured on one of our social media platforms as you were discovering the latest Instagram food photos and cat gifs that your friends had to offer your news feed. Regardless, there’s probably a screen between you and these words. According to the Pew Research Center, this trend reached a tipping point in 2011, when a greater number of Americans began getting their news online rather than from print sources.
Moreover, a study from eMarketer says that by 2016 almost 90 percent of college students will own a smartphone. Why bring your computer to class when you can carry it in your pocket? The technology is just too good to pass up, and never being out of the loop is of vital importance to Generation Y.
Distinguished lecturer Arianna Huffington spoke April 30 at Drexel about this shared addiction to connectivity. Huffington, whose two daughters are in their early 20s, remarked that while they grew up in a time where human interaction was still valued, she fears for the ability of today’s children to cope with the overstimulation generated by constant screen time.
Much of Huffington’s lecture stressed the importance of making a conscious effort to disconnect and refocus our lives around the tangible people and things that really matter to us. Remember, this is a woman whose livelihood revolves around one of the most viewed and shared websites in the world. It’s in her best interest for you to stay connected, but yet she warns against overindulgence in media technology. If that isn’t a wake-up call, we’re not sure what is.
Like Huffington’s daughters, people our age have a concept of human interaction, but more recently they have become enslaved by computer-mediated socializing. It’s just so easy to send a Facebook invite to get the word out about a party, to tweet someone “I miss you” or to text a classmate about that homework assignment.
Ask your parents how they most frequently communicated with people when they were in their early-to-mid 20s. You’ll likely hear stories of throwing pebbles at windows in the middle of the night, writing letters in class, or meeting up at some special hangout spot after school.
“Social media” in the ‘70s and ‘80s meant television and radio, technologies that families would consume together, in the car or at the end of a long day. People talked about what they were seeing and hearing — it was a point of discussion. Now our social technologies inhibit our engagement with each other. Today’s youth can simply chat somebody on Facebook from the comfort of their bed, erasing the need to meet up with friends in person.
While the instant gratification of online chatting is convenient, there is something much more gratifying in updating your friends and family about your life in person. There’s no real way to sense someone’s emotions in an online conversation because so much gets lost in translation. We bet you don’t have enough hands to count the number of times somebody has misunderstood your tone, mistaking your playful sarcasm for a bad attitude. Or when you do talk to somebody face to face, how often have you tried to tell a story that was interrupted with “Yeah, I saw it on Facebook”? Facebook has taken away the joy of telling somebody something for the first time and really savoring their reaction.
On top of that, there is almost a sense of obligation to make a statement via social media in response to the latest news event or even change in weather. This mob mentality has proliferated the trend of news stories becoming exaggerated. Take, for example, the 2009 Iranian presidential election, during which protesters used Twitter to communicate the fact that there were 7,000 activists present, a figure which grew exponentially to 700,000 after misreporting and uninformed tweets.
With all this misinformation, how can one tell fact from fiction? Some users believe everything the Internet tells them, and now they believe everything that social media tells them. When these users don’t check to see if the information they are about to share is accurate or not, they are contributing to the viral spread of misinformation.
Nonstop interaction with these social platforms, and the devices that run them, is diluting our sense of self, of social interaction and what is newsworthy. As Huffington said, it’s time to reflect.
As with any decision, we should weigh the pros and cons. Is it worth losing the personal interactions because texting is so convenient? For some things — quick questions and locating people in a crowd — it just makes sense. But consider how much is being lost every time you shy away from a situation and text about it instead. Awkward situations, fighting and making up, complete happiness, true love — all are diluted when we interact through technology. So drop the phone, log out of Facebook, meet up with your best friend, and have some solid human time.