I have a problem—a problem severe enough I might even call it an addiction. I use the Internet for everything: school, entertainment, because I’m bored, or because I have too much to do. Sure, the Internet is great, but during a recent afternoon in a coffee shop, a place that I don’t typically associate with technology (that’s changing), I noticed everyone sat in groups glued to their screens when they were there, presumably, with the intent of socializing. That scene wasn’t especially new to me. I’ve been that person glued to my screen. I regularly fight back the urge to tweet everything, but I realized that day how sad and annoying it is that our generation feels the need to connect over a phone when there are people around us. (Trust me, I realize I’m not saying anything ground-breaking.)
This annoyance, mostly at myself, led me to try an experiment. For a week, I went without the Internet—no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, and no email.
Let me just state the obvious: this was difficult for me, and not because I had to find other ways to do basically everything, or because I’m literally taking a class about social media, but because for me technology is like a crutch. I get into a lot of awkward situations, and a screen—specifically, my Twitter account—is my way out of them. There was a point when I got into an elevator and actually had to talk to someone. Like, make eye contact, smile, greet them, and ask them to push the button for my floor. I realized in that moment the great irony of our generation: we’re the most connected generation yet, but also the most socially inept.
What blew me away was that during my experiment, I was able to talk to people better. I’ve had some of the best conversations I’ve ever had with people. There was a point when I confronted one of my biggest fears about a friendship, solely because I put my phone down and talked, really just talked, and I think I’m better for it.
The last thing I learned from this week was that I’ve been missing out on the people around me. I used to think people-watching was weird, but when there are no screens, you can’t really help it. I walked around this campus and learned that you, my fellow UTMers, are a beautiful group of people. I mean, damn, y’all are hot. But seriously, I was finally looking at our campus, I was smiling when I was smiled at and I felt like I saw this school, this wonderful campus full of potentially stressed-out students, in a new way. We are sad, and hardworking, and different, and delightfully complicated—and it’s wonderful.
What I learned from this experiment as a whole is that we don’t see each other. We know that people are there but we don’t notice each other, and if we do, that’s “creepy”. I’m guilty of it myself: I’m too busy updating my phone to remember to live the life I’ve been given. For me, that’s really pathetic.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Internet. I love cat videos (which is saying a lot because I hate actual cats… judge me, I don’t care) and social media, and yes, I see the irony of writing this on a computer, but I think the Internet is like cake. Too much consumption and you have a serious problem, but too little and you’re that strange person no one likes to talk to. It’s about balance.
Maybe one day we’ll figure out how that balance thing works, but as a member of this generation, maybe we do need to learn how to put the screens down and turn them off. Even just for a little bit. We might be better off for it.
This article has been edited since it was printed. The author is Kimberly Johnson, not Kimberly Green. A notice will be printed in the October 20, 2014 issue.