Unplug or unplague? The case for conscious social media use

Walking down the sidewalk from one of my classes, I am greeted by the sight of peers and friends crossing my path. While I am not an outgoing person, I always like to say hello to those who I pass, even if it is through a simple smile to those I don’t know well. I see one friend ahead of me, someone I used to work with frequently, and as she gets closer, I get ready to say hello to her and maybe even pause to have a brief conversation. 20 feet away, 10 feet away, five feet away and…she passed me without saying hello, without even looking up at me. I close my mouth that had been ready to say “Hey! How are you?” with genuine interest. What prevented her from talking to me, from even looking up and seeing me? This is a scenario I witness daily at school. And the cause? Phones.

From the time I began visiting Loras to being a junior in college, I have noticed a quick shift in how we use technology, specifically smartphones. When I first toured campus, people always seemed to be smiling and saying “hi” to one another. Now, many (if not most) people have their heads down, watching the sidewalk in front of them as they listen to music from their headphones or scrolling through their social media feeds to make sure they didn’t miss something important during class.

In the article “Binge Breaker” by Bianca Bosker, she follows Tristan Harris, a revolutionary in the field of conscious technology. Harris works for Silicon Valley, and he is determined to help convert the addicting software into mindful software so users can better manage their time and end the control technology has over their lives. I encourage you to read the article, but there are a few points that stuck out to me.

One point he made was through relating media to junk food: it is addicting and provides us with the different flavors of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And because it is addicting, it is controlling. However, to overcome this addiction, Harris suggests an organic brand of social media, allowing users to be more conscious with their time and what they are putting into their minds.

Another point Harris made when talking to Bosker is how we crave attention and social approval, urging us to constantly be connecting with others through social media. I believe this point is at the crux of all media addiction. It is not that people want to try everything and know about everything, but they search for constant recognition because they are afraid of being ignored. When I walk down the sidewalk, I don’t see people searching to talk to people; I see people who are hoping others will reach out to them. I also don’t see people who are purposefully ignoring those walking past them; I see people who are avoiding being the one ignored.

This addiction to the desire to be acknowledged is plaguing our culture and our world. We miss the little things in life, such as meaningful conversations with people in person. We are so worried we will be the one ignored that we accidentally continue the cycle by ignoring others. I have often had the urge to plug in my headphones, to scroll through the apps on my phone, and sometimes I do. But I also have a greater urge to break this cycle and begin a new one of recognition. So, I keep my phone in my pocket or try to put it away when someone is about to pass me. I look at them, even if their head is down, hoping I can pass a small smile to them if they happen to look up. I acknowledge those around me, hoping that more often people will look up and smile at me.

Let’s unplug so we can unplague our world. Also, if you have never watched the video “Look Up” I highly encourage it.

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