After months of hard work, the first semester of the year is all but over and most of us can look forward to a chance to unwind and enjoy a slower pace of life for the summer vacation. Or can we? Life runs at a hectic pace these days, whether you’re a freshman student or a tenured professor. What is it that fills up our time to the point that we look forward to every weekend with eager expectation, and arrive at Monday morning with a void in the place we were hoping to have a feeling of relaxed satisfaction? I would suggest that one reason is our use of technology, and in particular the way we use it to communicate with each other. Seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, most of us are available to be contacted by just about every person we’ve ever gone to school with or worked with. This need for connectedness might seem obsessive if it wasn’t so widespread. It may be that our addiction to communication technology is adding quantity to our lives without increasing the quality.
Could it be true that we’re addicted to technology and the convenience of communication that it brings? I gave up watching TV some years ago when I decided that I had far too much to do in my life already without wasting time watching other people doing (mostly pointless) things in their (largely forgettable) fictional existences. It’s therefore somewhat ironic that nowadays I spend a cumulatively large amount of spare time checking what my friends are up to on facebook every day. At least the people and the things they post are real, and have some relevance to me because of our ‘friendship’… don’t they? Whether important or not, it’s hard to avoid checking what people are up to, especially when it only takes a moment to read a post and leave a comment or a ‘like.’ But can we let that impulse go for a while, for the sake of living in the here-and-now? I suspect it’s somewhat like smoking or drinking – we believe we can go without it if we want to, it’s just that we don’t want to stop just now, and it’s not really affecting the rest of our lives, is it? Unfortunately with each passing semester it seems there are more students on campus who can’t really separate social networking use from the other parts of their lives. Fifty minutes of class time is sometimes too long to go without a status update, even when cellphone use is against the professor’s rules!
What is it about interacting with an electronic device, or virtual representations of our friends’ existences, that is so much more compelling than interacting face-to-face with the people around us? Perhaps we are comforted by the anonymity that reduces the chance of looking foolish. Perhaps a status update with a large number of ‘likes’ is an easier gratification to achieve than getting a room full of people to laugh at one of your jokes. I would suggest that living in the moment, while more fraught with pitfalls and potential embarrassment than life online, is ultimately more rewarding. Take children as an example – no one lives according to the motto ‘carpe diem’ more than kids do (if you want to learn how, try spending some time with some young relations). So much so, in fact, that it’s often a relief for parents to let kids use smart devices just to keep them quiet. Sadly, however, a growing body of research is indicating that use of these devices is incredibly harmful to children’s social and emotional development, even their ability to learn to read.
This summer then, if you’re really in need of some R&R, try disconnecting from the virtual world for a while. Spend some time with people who are important to you. Read a book or two. And let the feeling of good old-fashioned peace and quiet get you ready to face the next semester.