It is 2017 and it seems like everywhere I look, I see people bent over their phones, walking to class, eating pasta, even crossing the street. Images reflect in their pupils and the lenses of their glasses. With necks bent at strange angles, I see their shoulders rounding to accommodate the weight of the skull. These days, thumbs move faster than thoughts do, typing away in some language I’ve ceased to recognize, substituting numbers for letters and pictures for words. With the entire worlds contained in the palm of your hand, what else might you need?
Human connection, perhaps.
With a virtual world at our fingertips, we are constantly distracted. We have trained ourselves to jump at the sound of a ringtone, to respond immediately to a buzz with our attention. The emblems of social media – the dancing ghost on Snapchat, the outline of a camera from Instagram, and of course that famous "f" from Facebook – quickly become more recognizable than the faces of our childhood friends.
And yet, I am sitting at a laptop computer writing this, letting blue light play out across my features. I know that to submit this article, I will access the internet and may even become distracted by emails or promotions from my favorite online stores. My alarms for school are stored on my phone and so is my schedule. Even my music – one of the most important aspects of my life – is the most easily accessed through a screen.
In the 15 minutes I have spent drafting this article so far, I have checked my phone approximately four times.
Sometimes I stop and think – what is this doing to me? I’m constantly on the lookout for notifications, trying to find something new to look at. Did I become bored this easily when I was a kid? Surely not. I have memories of building tents outside and reading in them for hours. My sister and I used to take bike rides and climb trees and practice our instruments. We’d have to ask for permission to watch television, so we usually played with our dolls.
I can’t remember when it started – when my need for technology started to entrench itself in the habits of my everyday life. How long has the first thing I do in the morning been to check my phone for emails? I’ve always made a conscious effort to put my phone on airplane mode at night, but when did I start eagerly waiting for messages to come in the morning after? These days, I don’t dress myself without checking the weather on an app. I copy my schedule from my phone to my planner, not the other way around. The biggest treat I can give myself these busy college days, aside from a facemask, is an uninterrupted episode on Netflix.
It was only recently that I recognized the gravity of my situation. Constantly checking my phone had become an unhealthy way to deal with my anxiety – and it enabled my procrastination. I decided to make a change – to delete the social media apps off my phone, and make a conscious effort to be more present in the moment.
Some amazing things happened.
First, I promised myself that I would try not to walk with my phone open in my hand. For one thing, I started getting places a lot faster (and I didn’t have to worry as much when crossing the street). But I also began to get used to the rhythm of my stride, enjoying the feel of my feet pressing against the ground and the ground rising up to meet them.
Then, I made it my goal to notice one thing that I felt when I was outside. It was like the world exploded around me. I couldn’t believe how long I’d gone without actually taking the time to breathe in the smell of blossoms on the trees, to feel the breeze brush my shoulders, and to embrace the warmth of the sunshine on my skin (PSA: please wear sunscreen). Like a child, I am filled with wonder again at the beauty of the natural world. I don’t think I’ve ever been more pleased to walk to class.
As I continue on my journey to step away from screens, I’d like to encourage all of you to do the same. Make a conscious decision to be more mindful of your use of technology. Find something else to look at when you’re bored or uncomfortable. Find suitable ways to handle anxiety and procrastination. Most of all, look at the people around you and actually connect.
You never know what you might have been missing until you open your eyes.