Staff Editorial: Our Severed Lives Online


It’s seventh period and the teacher is in front of the class talking about the day’s subject matter. You can see out the window, and boy does it look beautiful outside. You still have 15 minutes left in class, but you know that time is going to crawl by like a double-amputee sloth. What you do next is what nearly every student does when class becomes a bore; you pull out your phone. The effervescent glow spreads on your face, your own personal sunshine. Your thumbs fly across the screen and transport you to the worlds of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, maybe even Snapchat. You become immersed in this new, exciting world and the sound of your teacher’s voice fades into the background.

In a recent New York Times essay, Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the 2011 book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, wrote: “These days, when people are alone, or feel a moment of boredom, they tend to reach for a device. In a movie theater, at a stop sign, at the checkout line at a supermarket and, yes, at a memorial service, reaching for a device becomes so natural that we start to forget that there is a reason, a good reason, to sit still with our thoughts: It does honor to what we are thinking about. It does honor to ourselves.”

Next time you are in class, look around at your fellow classmates and see how many people have a glow on their faces from their cell phone screen; chances are it’ll be a majority. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2012 37% of teenagers in the United States owned a smartphone. This number is only going to rise in the coming years.

Invariably following the use of smartphones will come a rise in the use of social media. According to a 2010 Pew Internet Research Project poll, 73% of teenagers that owned smartphones used social media regularly. As a generation, we are being shaped by this boom in technology and it has come to define how we communicate and how we view ourselves and our fellow students.

Social media is essentially an advertisement of yourself. Whenever you post a picture, tweet a tweet, or instagram a photo, it is specifically tailored with the fact in mind that it will be seen by other people and reflect upon you in a certain way. Interacting on social media is akin to having a conversation with someone on a loudspeaker in a packed stadium. Whenever a comment is made, every single one of the user’s friends has an ability to see and interact with this comment. This culture of awareness that every one of your ‘friends’ or followers is watching creates a disingenuous culture online.

In some ways, students also need to be careful about what they post on their social media profiles. Colleges and employers are increasingly researching candidates online and if your post comes up from your album “Spring Break 2012: Cabo Vacation” with all the photos of you pounding margaritas with your best buds it is not going to reflect in the best light upon you, plain and simple.

For example, someone’s Facebook photos often represent the absolute coolest and most interesting parts of their life. Users have an ability to portray themselves in the best possible light, which is why user profiles are often populated with vacation photos and smiling pictures of their family.

It is not a purposeful deception by the user. It is, however, promoted by the culture of social media. Instagram actually provides filters of all different kinds to hide any impurities and make the photo look as appealing as possible.

So, you may be asking yourself, ‘This all seems reasonable, what is the problem?’ The problem lies with the fact that social media is quickly replacing true human interaction. A person’s online presence has come to represent them as an entire person. It is no longer a huge leap for students to feel like they fully understand one of their peers, or at least make judgments of them, based off the student’s online presence. This is a dangerous precedent when the basis of social media is to advertise the best of yourself. Are we truly connecting as human beings when all we see is the happiest moments of other student’s lives?

Social media provides an opportunity for instant feedback and validation, or not, from your peers. Immediately after posting online every person who follows you has the ability to like, favorite, or comment on what you’ve posted. For many, this reaction from their peers defines whether or not what they posted held merit. The act of liking or favoriting someone’s material then becomes a meaningful social interaction that holds actual weight in the real world. The fact that the tapping of a mouse or the double tap of a thumb on a screen has become meaningful is simultaneously perplexing and radical. Has communication between people really boiled down to this basic of an action? It seems so impersonal to connect with others online when it is not even possible to see their face.Communication is another aspect of life that has often, in the past been done face-to-face, but is moving online. Online messaging and text messaging have created the ability to keep students in touch with one another constantly. Without the ability to see the face of whoever you are talking to, an important element of communication is lost. When hurtful things are said face to face you can see the pain you have caused. You can see the eyes of the person you are talking to glance downward in shame and their shoulder slouch. When you’re online all you see is ‘:(‘ which honestly does not have the same effect.

It is undeniable that online communication has also eased the ability of large groups of people to communicate. Student-run clubs and activities rely heavily on Facebook to organize members and make sure every member stays in the loop. While it may seem like the distant past, in our younger years parents would have to use ‘phone trees’ to contact each other and call every person’s home phone in order to get out a message. Today, if there is an important class meeting or event a leader can post in a Facebook group, and voila, every member is informed, within seconds.

In a lot of ways, technology makes our lives easier. But, easier is not always better. This new online culture of ‘easier’ has led us into a disregard for the human beings that dwell on the other side of the computer screen. The Howler wants every Monarch student to remember that social media and technology serve an auxiliary function to real life, and as weird as it is to actually have to say this, they are not real life. Don’t miss out on real life, blurring past around you, because you’re too busy with your face immersed in that effervescent, pale glow.