What we lose in digitalization?

So earlier today I was sitting in front of a classroom, getting ready for elementary Italian when I started looking around. There were several other students waiting for the preceding class to vacate the room. I neglected my initial instinct to do something on my phone. I usually tend to not fall into my phone too much, but sometimes its unavoidable. Upon looking around I was reminded of something I’ve noticed more and more often. The fact that even on a college campus – the prime spot to open your eyes, lift your head and people-watch -, the masses tend to sink into their little pocket computers. Here I am watching these 10 students all standing two feet apart, focus solely on their phones. I asked myself why people have that instinct? It most certainly can’t be that they’re all busy and are promptly responding to their mothers’ texts, as most of them are doodling on instagram or even playing some sort of game. I began to realize that the phone has become a sort of modern-day escape. You are able to escape social stress and it gives others the impression that you are busy, popular or just have better things to do than to converse. But at what cost? You mask your insecurities by escaping into this virtual world of likes, comments and ‘fake’ interactions, all the while losing such a fundamental human need for interaction. I began to ask myself whether past generations had their own such devices of escapism or whether this is a new, modern development. Certainly it may have been books, back when books weren’t digitalized yet. However, I do believe that without such easy, inherent access to technology at all times what was left over was the fact that there often was nothing better to do than to converse with others. I’ve talked to my father about this notion that as a kid, due to the lack of constant access to technology, he was forced to either read, talk to his parents or choose the fun option, which was to get together with friends. Nowadays you have so much entertainment and so many distractions at the ready that you lose sight of the truly important things. As a result, I believe public discourse and interaction amongst newer generations has shifted focus. It is no longer a necessity but a luxury, that many lose. In the worst cases this can lead to loneliness and even depression. When your main outlet for humor and social needs is a white screen, the lines between fiction and reality become blurred. 

So what is the consequence of such escapism? No doubt social interaction changes, and insecurities aren’t broken and fixed, but rather hidden and masked behind a screen. You aren’t forced into confrontation, but can take the easy route without resistance or shame. And that’s not to say that I don’t do this myself, but at least I am conscious of what it does to me and can try to avoid it. I ask myself again, why are these 10 students all in their individual, meaningless, virtual worlds, instead of talking to each other, forming relationships, interacting. Oh but god forbid you bring this up, then you are the weirdo that is stuck in past ways and doesn’t want to acclimate to modern times. And who am I to judge whether this is even a negative development. Perhaps the positives do outweigh the negatives and I just don’t realize it. However, what is tangibly recognizable in my opinion is the fact that such behavior will most certainly not help you in your development as a human and your transition out of your insecurities. 

What i’ve noticed most poignantly, for example is the fact that many people nowadays live through social media. The amount of likes they get on an instagram picture of them posing on the beach, is their main source of self-validation and confidence. When you strip that away and interact with them in real life, they are often shy, insecure and self-conscious. Their instagram likes give them confidence and give the viewer the impression of what a wonderful, happy life they’re leading. When all they post is beach and party pictures, the illusion created is one of a grand, perfect life. Yet, when you meet them in real life their character often comes across as deeply insecure. So their persona online clearly juxtaposes their persona in tangible life. Activity online in forms of Instagram and Snapchat are all well and good in moderation. As soon as they start to matter more than taking care of your true self, is when I would say we need to assess the situation and self-reflect. 

So why do I bring this up? Why do I confront it rather than let it be and play my part in the modern wheel of society? Because it bothers me. I’m annoyed at the fact that as a whole we seem to be losing sight of what truly matters and clearly have a harder time forming meaningful relationships. Nowadays it’s so easy to get distracted that I’ve even found myself, after having spent an hour or two on the internet, having to take a step back and realize that I’ve just wasted 2 hours of my life. I could have been creating, chasing my passion, forming relationships. And what gets me is the fact that many people don’t even recognize this fault a lot of us seem to have. I can and do stop myself. But when you hide inside your phone at lunch, in the gym, even in social settings and groups themselves you won’t see the beauty of the world. Even within social settings, for example, a lot of discourse is focused around phones. Did you see that tweet? Have you seen this video? And while that is fun for a while, what you’re losing focus of is, in an extreme sense, your own humanity.
So I’m asking you, the reader of my rant, to take a step back the next time you notice such behavior. Take a step back and ask yourself is this worth my time? Am I going to continue this behavior or go against the norm and start up a conversation? It’s hard, very hard to be the odd one out, but chances are the moment you do stand up, others will be happy to follow. 

Lift your head, look around, breathe. It’s so much more important than liking the picture of that one elementary school acquaintance you once had.

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