It isn’t uncommon for me to walk around my campus with my cell phone in hand. For starters, I use it often and usually don’t want to put it away. Secondly, it makes it easy for me to walk past people I don’t know without that awkward eye contact. I can be disengaged with the world I walk through, without worry. The digital bubble is a shield! This is definitely not normal.
As a child of the 90s, I have grown to see the evolution of text and message based networking reach far beyond the numeric keypad on a hand sized Nokia. Our latest devices have bright touchscreens, which allow us to video chat and support every social network one could imagine. Be it a Tweet, Snapchat, Facebook status, or Instagram post, we can connect with one another regardless of distance. A major change from having to wait for mom and dad to finish on the phone before I could set my “Away message” on AIM! The dial-up days.
Often I hear professors and other more senior adult figures say that these advances in electronic communication are a monstrosity. In their eyes, the internet is destroying the development of in-person socialization. While I don’t see it as drastically as they do, I do think they have a point. How often do we wait for class to begin and use our device rather than greet our classmates? Is it possible to walk around campus without using our phones as a way to be “too busy” to look at others or even enjoy the walk to class? Why is it so difficult to connect with people you aren’t familiar with? It seems that socialization has become exclusive to those we have already begun to speak to. Starting fresh with someone unfamiliar is strange, and almost creepy to some. This is, of course, why I don’t want my phone to die.
Before this semester began, I made it my business to try something new. I decided to keep my phone in my pocket while I walked around campus. Instead of waiting for class and browsing, I would just sit at my desk with my books out. What harm could it do? After a few weeks trying it out, I found myself recognizing a lot more faces around school. People would recognize me too! Small talk was proving to be golden. The point was not to make a million friends, but to engage with other people (even for a few seconds). While I see improvement in my own social life through this experiment of sorts, the reaction is still mixed. Sometimes I get odd looks when I smile and greet someone randomly. It’s as if I were being impolite or weird!
Then I realize… it is weird. That’s just not how we do it anymore. Some people prefer to connect using social networks as the primary communication medium. Of course, the in-person communication is a whole other animal. What to do now that this digital friend is real? “What do I talk about?” How could it be that we complain about how good a “texter” someone is rather than hope that they can engage you face to face? Are our social standards that low?
In no way is this some attempt to bash social media. These platforms help us connect and give us a great way to share our voices. So often we see these used to spread groundbreaking ideas, or give us a peek into the lives of people a world away. We can, however, gain a lot from taking inventory of the way we use them. Social media is no substitute for our social lives. We shouldn’t work toward our image on social media, but let it be a reflection of the image we create every day. It should be complementary to who we are. My little experiment showed me that I was missing out on a lot. Potential connections went by the wayside, and who knows what they could be? Thankfully, I won’t wonder anymore.
Am I still weaning myself off my own bad habits? Sure thing. Baby steps are better than no steps. Break the artificial bubble that you may live in. Explore the idea that your voice is interesting to the people around you. You know exactly why you don’t want your phone to die. Let it.