The Communication Challenge

Guest Chat by Maria Costa, PC ’16.

It’s Friday (thank God). Finally done with class for the day, I’m sitting in front of my computer. My thumbs skate across the glassy 4 ½ inch screen of my phone as I take breaks in between my rounds of Candy Crush to text my friends from home and check what’s going on in the Twittersphere. I have about 5 windows open all at once on the computer screen, listening to Spotify, occasionally glancing at Facebook and doing some online shopping, texting my PC friends through iMessage to make plans for the night, and keeping a blank Word document up just so I can reassure myself that I thought about getting a head-start on homework for the weekend. As I’m flipping back and forth between each of my little windows, it strikes me. This is kind of excessive, isn’t it? Naaah. It’s Friday, I deserve a break, and this is fun. But it’s not just Friday. It’s every day. I constantly have my phone on me, and I can never stop checking it. I need to know if I have any new emails, new texts, new tweets, or likes on Facebook or Instagram. My phone is always safe and snug in a pocket where I can feel it vibrate to tell me someone is trying to talk to me or is affirming my words or photos. It’s become a habit, a bad one, and it interrupts daily interactions. I’ve realized that it is excessive – perhaps it’s just me, but I sense that this is a fairly common scenario, and it’s time for us to take on a new challenge.

Our heads are down.

Walking across campus, before classes, in dining halls, and even in small social gatherings with friends, our heads are constantly bowed, as if in reverence, but instead, in a relentless trance of technology. Our ears are always perked for the sound of our phones buzzing, offering some new slice of information. No one can wait; there is always a sense of urgency to whatever lies in the colorful world behind the glass (or plastic) screen, and no one can stop checking again and again what you could be missing out on if you ignore the incessant updates. We cannot help ourselves. Every text, tweet, Facebook post, and like on Instagram is essential. The virtual universe offers us an escape from the demands of our lives and a window into the lives and thoughts of others.

We are a generation of extreme multi-taskers; we are alerted by every slight illumination of our smartphones, and of course, would not dream of depriving them of attention. Our attentiveness to any task is always shared with our focus on the wired world, so that our homework and readings are supplied with all-too-easy reasons to procrastinate, and texting one person while talking to another characterizes many of our conversations. This techno-savvy world demands us to keep up with each small detail that occurs throughout the day; otherwise we will be left in a dark, unknowing state. So this is why we sit across the table from family members and friends with our hands gripped tightly around the slender bodies of our smartphones, half tuned out from what they are saying – because society dictates that face-to-face communication is an unnecessary waste of time. But our personal electronic interactions are unnatural for our social need for human contact. If we keep looking down at our phones and ignore the world, not only will we continue to walk into those weird, hip-height poles that are in the middle of sidewalks all over campus, but we will condemn ourselves to walk down a path of human isolation.

True effective communication involves talking to someone face to face. While texting someone, reading their tweets, looking at their pictures on Facebook and Instagrams, and even just talking on the phone is fun, convenient, and easy, none of these methods of communication allow you to see their face and their body language, and therefore get a true sense of how the person you’re talking to is feeling or reacting. As we rely on virtual communication and favor it over more personal interactions, we have begun to lose our social skills and our appreciation for taking the time to communicate – to just chat for no reason, share funny stories without a 140-character limit, and appreciate a beautiful sunset without looking at it through a filtered lens.

The technological revolution has presented us with countless benefits that make life easier to capture memorable moments, connect with old friends and acquaintances, and communicate with others in quick, easy ways. We have fully embraced the advances that technology has offered us, and they absolutely are a tremendous aid in our fast-paced, stressful society of appointments and deadlines. However, the problem arises when we begin to take advantage of the comfort of technology and take its simplicity to an extreme. We look down at our phones to in fact avoid eye contact and interaction with others, we play silly app games just to waste time when we could be spending it more meaningfully otherwise, and lose the appreciation and happiness found in moments surrounded by the beauty of nature or the warmth of loved ones. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is essential to have down time to just relax, I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in finding solace in the humor of my Twitter timeline, getting lost in the artsy photos and “tbt”s of Instagram, and “trying just one more time” on Flappy Bird. It’s addictive.

This is the problem. The constant checking of our texts and social media have become our habits, our phones an extension of ourselves. It is much too easy to fall into the habit of picking up our phones the second that we have nothing to do in order to check our news feeds and notifications and block out the stresses and tasks of the day. But when we do this, there is an abundance of real life and experiences that we are missing out on.  The virtual world can wait – it’s not going anywhere.

So the challenge is to put down the phone. Turn it off. Put it in your backpack, your purse, or somewhere it won’t bother you. Use this as a potential Lenten sacrifice. Test yourself and reward yourself, for every half hour to fifteen minutes you spend on your phone looking at social media or just texting, make sure you spend an equal amount of time calling someone and having a real conversation, reading something that isn’t for school, or meeting friends for a quick lunch or coffee. Or if you’re a Twitter addict, discipline yourself so that after you’ve written 3 tweets in a day, you have to stay off of twitter for (at least) the next 3 hours. Challenge yourself to always keep your phone off the table at meals, and hold a real conversation with the people you’re sitting across from, one where you respect the people you’re with by paying attention to them instead of what’s happening on your phone. I know it might be tough, it is a true challenge to leave that virtual universe behind – especially when you are already in the habit of keeping it as a daily part of your life. But I challenge you to try it. Get together with your friends instead of just talking on a group text. Read a book or a newspaper instead of your Twitter feed. Sit and look at the snow falling or the beautiful colors of the sky and write about it or just simply appreciate it instead of Intagramming it. Take pictures for the memories instead of for your profile picture on Facebook. Enjoy what life has to offer, because each moment is fleeting and precious, but the internet is forever.

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