When you walk into Commons, how often do you see a table of people sitting together, yet each person in their own world? In class, how often do you see people with their heads stooped down attempting to slyly be on their phones or even rattling away at their computer keyboards even though the professor hasn’t made a noteworthy comment in ten minutes? Recently, I have heard many people talking about how they want to limit their social media usage or have turned their phone settings to grayscale to make it less appealing, but when do we really ever think about what the device that is everpresent in our pockets or hands is capable of and what it means for our lives. With news like the recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, many people have been evaluating the virtual identities they have been curating and the implications of these identities. For me, I have been contemplating how and why I use my phone for about a month, since I started participating in #nosocialsunday, a movement to curb social media use on Sunday’s in the hopes of being more present and engaged in the “real world.”
Cell phones, and smartphones to be more precise, have created a world of new possibilities and added a tremendous amount of security and ease to those privileged enough to interact with them. The ability to call and video call people half way across the country or even the world has facilitated long-distance business as well as personal relationships. While ease and convenience are things most people seek in products and vacations and in general, it is hard to not feel that we are sacrificing other things such as face-to-face contact or the silent surprise that comes from receiving a thoughtful letter in the mail. I am guilty myself of sending a text when a call is warranted. While we move towards greater reliance on virtual contact, we should be reflexive about why we are choosing to use particular methods of communication. If we are mindful and conscious about our use of such devices, it may feel less like of a sacrifice when sending a text as opposed to getting a cup of coffee and catching up.
Social media is a whole separate beast. It is used consciously as well as unconsciously. How often do you open an app—say, Instagram—and realize you had literally just closed it? Yet, how long do you take on the app before you post a picture? Maybe you have a special editing app or send it to your friends for advice? To what end are you consciously shaping your image? Social media, in my opinion, is all about curating your life: who you choose to follow, who you allow to follow you, and the pictures you choose to “represent” your lived experiences. But, social media, like the smartphone, has the power to bring people together. Sending people memes and being invited into a meaningful experience in someone’s life via their photos can promote bonds and strengthen connections amongst people.
While this may sound like a confused millennial rant, my suggestion is mindfulness. It seems simple but, when you think things through and are aware and present with yourself, the things you engage with become more meaningful. When you are mindful, and make deliberate choices, it does not feel like you are sacrificing something else to be in the present moment. I’m not saying delete your accounts and throw your phone into the Puddle, but what I am saying is be an active and conscious user.