Sauntering down the slate paths across the Quad, you see an acquaintance heading your way. You look up. You look around. Left and right. As you approach out comes the phone, fingers twiddling a frantically worded message to look as if you’re busy. Like you didn’t see them. You cross paths—but you pretend you didn’t.
I still haven’t figured out why people think this is normal or acceptable or kind. And I’ve even done it myself. Our generation—the generation so adept at social media, so skilled and so connected—can hardly be considered social.
While we flick senselessly through pages on our smartphones, passing the idle moments in class or shamefully avoiding eye contact with anyone who crosses our path, we’re connecting ourselves to a world outside that moment. We are fed the fire of other people’s lives, and, consciously or un-, learn what they’re doing or where they are or who they’re friends with. We need information all the time—but not to inform us. Just simply to occupy us.
The world we live in is one obsessed with constant coverage. Everyone needs to know everything and everyone’s business, all the time. We pride ourselves on our ability to capture time in 140 characters, sending them into cyberspace without a wince, live-tweeting our lives. We connect with others visually, telling our stories in granulated images and filters and captions, but we’re too busy trying to get the perfect frame for a photo of a sweating glass or a setting sun to actually enjoy it through our own frames. Real life experiences and real life moments have become an increasingly underutilized commodity. And for too many, that’s OK.
We need information all the time. We need sports scores (guilty). We need to tell our short-winded stories, anecdotes that gracefully place our days in the light we want shining on us (guilty). We promote ourselves and we promote our friends. Our family members. We scorn political leanings and express lovelorn thoughts via social media. And we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking it’s at all “social.”
In the past, I’d never had a problem with social media—keeping in touch with old friends, teammates. Talking to friends across the country or across the globe is easily done that way. But as of late, Internet lives for some have spiraled out of control.
I’ve seen more skin of people I went to high school with (or maybe you) than I ever wanted to or needed to. I’ve read naïve commentaries, illiterate posts and radical soapbox rants on politics or women’s rights or sporting events that invoke an irrational firestorm of controversy. And for what? A few intangible, cyber pats-on-the-back. I have seen too many “articles”—the term used loosely—that list 38 reasons you’ve got #whitegirlproblems or 14 reasons why you should be a pug owner. That is not journalism. That is mindless garbage.
Social media has transformed our generation. Social media makes it acceptable, sometimes encouraged, to photograph, crop, filter and caption your breakfast. Social media has cost job interviews. Athletic eligibilities. Scholarships. But for what it’s worth, for our generation, the benefits outweigh the potential costs, and we document our lives on platforms that beg for feedback in comments and likes from people we haven’t seen in months or years, or maybe ever.
Maybe it’s me. I’ve been called an old soul, and that’s fine. I have basic cable that I rarely watch and a turntable in my apartment to play vinyl records found in my parents’ basement. They sound far more rich and alive than any MP3 or stolen file from the depths of cyberspace. I’d prefer Frank Sinatra or Jo Stafford to Miley Cyrus or 2Chainz or any amount of chainz. I drink tea and whiskey and hate tight clothing. My brother got me a quill pen for Christmas, and it’s the best gift I’ve ever received. I had a flip phone—equipped with a pull-out antenna—until I was a sophomore in college. And that’s fine with me. Maybe I’m in the wrong generation.
But yet, being active on social media is a binary of hate and need. As a journalist, Twitter helps me stay in the know. As a person, Facebook helps me hate social media. But I have one anyway. I’m connected with over a thousand of my “friends,” many of whom I’ve known in previous lives and can’t even pick out their faces in a tagged photo. Thankfully, Facebook’s black magic can identify my face in photos and slap on a tag to my head without question.
Walking down the Quad, if I’ve ever met you, say hello. Or don’t. It’s up to you. But I think it’s time we stop hiding behind LCD screens—because that’s not something people should do. It’s not normal. It’s non-traditional. Maybe this year it’s time to show your face out loud. Look at the world in front of you, not through a camera lens or as seen as a tweetable moment. Because social media is all well and good—but if you’re always hiding behind its veil, there’s no one to share your life with.
And when this column runs, I’ll post it on Facebook and Twitter. Maybe that’s where you found it. Self-promoting, shamelessly, our endeavors as the world spins on around us, waiting to be filtered, cropped and posted.
Ashley Camano is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Thursday. Send Ashley a message on Twitter @camanyooo.