Media, technology, and screens saturate the daily lives of average millennial Americans. Within the first moments of waking up in the morning – usually from an alarm set on my phone – I am inundated with notifications from twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Gmail, AOL (yes, I still use AOL) and iMessage. While these notifications are almost always none pressing matters I eagerly look at each one and scroll through my newsfeeds and timelines before getting out of bed and starting my day. Social media and technology are incredible tools that have become nearly essential in our everyday lives.
I personally rely on my phone and various social media accounts not only as a means of alleviating mild boredom and staying in touch with family and friends but also as a way to keep me up-to-date on the latest news, celebrity gossip, politics, art and cultural events in my local area etc. Not to mention that not having a car in Los Angeles means having to regularly navigate public transportation with Google Maps or utilize Uber/Lyft. As Boyd writes: “We live in a technologically mediated world. Being comfortable using technology is increasingly important for everyday activities: obtaining a well-paying job, managing medical care, engaging with government,” (Boyd 180). Being an adept technology user in 2017 at the ripe age of twenty-years-old is not so much a necessity as it is a given at this point. Peers will expect you to have Facebook and text message for group projects. Teachers will expect you to be able to check BlackBoard and school emails for last minute changes to assignments, class cancellations etc. Parents will wonder why you have gone a week with out sending them an update or have somehow forgotten to FaceTime them. We are criticized for being addicted to our screens by older, but the truth the developed world — as a whole – is reliant on this new and growing digitally saturated social-scape.
However, unplugging is just as important as being plugged in. While I have no particular reason to not enjoy unplugging I still do not particularly enjoy it. A sort of FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – is definitely the root of this issue. Not necessarily on a social engagement or dinner invite, but maybe a news item or an “important” text from a close relative or love interest has me itching to look at my every so often. There’s also the boredom of not having my phone or technology nearby. Sure I could read a book – and I do try to read books regularly, but more often than not I catch myself reading short stories and news items on my computer and phone more instead of a bounded book. It is nice though during lectures and class discussions when I am able to put my phone and laptop into my backpack and focus solely on what is going on in class with my notebook and pen. Some people are able to take notes on their computer and multitask the various online shoe stores and social media accounts while listening to a lecture, and taking notes, but I personally cannot give my full attention when a constant barrage of notifications from Facebook messenger and Gmail incessantly pop up on the side of my screen.
Class time is a reminder that I am not fully present in my daily life. When I check my phone at a lunch with friends or even scroll through Instagram while watching a show on Netflix – another facet of our ever-growing digital world – my full attention is not being given. In an effort to avoid the sort of remorse that comes from essentially being rude during a day-to-day social interaction I have made steps along with my friends to avoid the urge to look down at phones and screens. A “no toys at the table” rule where we leave our phones at home or at the coat check etc. as a means of physically separating ourselves from what feels like a vital organ are cold turkey way into becoming fully present. I knew going a full 24- hours without technology would be a challenge – if only because it meant I needed to route out my method of transportation for the unconnected day the night before. Without the ability to use Uber and Venmo I would be a nuisance to friends having to pick up my tab until I could eventually pay them back, rather than split the fair or instantaneously send money to their bank account after breaking down the bill. I managed to figure it out though and decided that rather than sleep all day and do homework assignments I would fully try to through myself into a digital world without the tool (my phone) necessary to gain full entry.
I spent the majority of my 24-hr day alternating between the beach and various museums throughout LA County that had just opened recent exhibits. Luckily my friend was willing to front my travel needs, driving us from place to place, while also navigating from her phone (safely). Throughout the day I from time to time felt a tinge of boredom or curiosity about what sorts of texts, emails, Instagram posts I might have been missing, but after a few minutes these feelings would again fade because I had made appoint of keeping myself completely busy and engaged with the exhibits and conversations I had along the way. I did notice the people around me on the beach, museums and the restaurant I went to for lunch starring down at their phones rather than talking to one another…or being so concerned with how a photo of them looking at the art, rather than looking at the art itself that they seemed to miss what they were supposed to be taking in and observing almost entirely. They were unassuming accessories to the things in their hands rather than the other way around. A realized power shift had occurred whereby the phones they owned appeared to actually own them.
With that sort of dystopian sentiment in mind, I have definitely become more conscious of my screen usage and see the importance in curbing it appropriately.