Staying online for too long distracts from life

Illustration of a person walking while looking at their phone
Alex Nash / The Mossy Log

Digital connection needed for assignments, interaction with friends, necessary for work-life balance

Digital technology is one of the most revolutionary innovations of the twenty-first century. With endless tools for creativity, self-expression and remote connections with people across the globe, it is arguably  humanity’s greatest achievement. I appreciate the efficiency and convenience offered by a pocket-sized key to the Internet. Therefore, I find it ironic that I am typing an article about our usage of screen time on my computer, rather than scribbling in cursive with a quill by candlelight. 

You have all heard about the dark side of technological devices. Prolonged screen time worsens our neurological development, physical and mental health and sleep quality. Yet, our eyes remain glued to screens due to our dependence on online platforms such as Moodle, Google Classroom and Gmail. Let’s be realistic. Spending hours on a screen, whether it be on a laptop or tablet, is inevitable in this era of digitized education. We rely on electronic devices to engage in Zoom meetings, access lecture slides or articles, turn in essays and keep up with deadlines and updates. 

With so much screen time, one would assume that a student would relish a break from typing a 20-page paper on a Google document or a data science student would gladly walk outside after coding discrete algebra. Yet, I still witness masses of individuals with soft blue light reflecting off their faces while roaming the cobblestones of Lewis & Clark College. 

Grab a seat in Fields Dining Hall, and look at the people dining. What do you notice? I notice people missing the majestic scenery of birds and trees as they eat at the high tables near those giant windows. I see friends not looking or talking to each other as they yank out their phones and start texting as soon as the conversation dies. At the Dovecote, I notice someone letting a closing door hit a stranger as they leave because they are too distracted by the buzzes and chimes from their phone. 

How many of us are mindlessly scrolling as we anticipate that sweet dopamine from TikTok videos that steal our attention and time away from the real world? How many of us get in bed at 11 p.m., watching Netflix until it is 2 a.m.? How many of us realize that we are doing it? If we know the problem, why is it so hard for us to stop?

The Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” expertly illuminates social media companies’ manipulation of users by designing algorithms that encourage addiction on their online platforms. During an interview with a crew member, Shoshana Zuboff, author of “The Age of Capitalism,” states, “It’s a marketplace trading exclusively in human futures” as the newsfeed overrides the importance of quality time with family, friends, or other loved ones. It can also distract from completing internship applications, pursuing goals and cultivating career paths.

Your engagement with TikTok, Instagram, Pinterest or Snapchat is their product. The algorithms promote data-driven homogenization of content rather than personalization, as the continual flow of content is designed to seduce you further into the rabbit hole. The more time you are trapped in that rabbit hole, the more profit the companies make, which prompts them to ask, “How much of your life can we get you to give us?” 

The same goes with the design of streaming service platforms. According to Jeremy Ryan Matthew in his study “Netflix and the Design of the Audience,” the latter not only cultivates the illusion of personalization, but also manipulates your “indecision without any time spent watching the videos” suggested by the algorithm. Ask yourself this: How often do you find yourself wasting time by browsing back and forth through strips of content on Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu?

I understand that sometimes you just need to turn off your brain while watching Khaby Lame or baby cow videos. What better way to distract yourself from debilitating anxiety or student debt? However, if you are losing sleep from scrolling mindlessly, you might want to take a rain check. 

There needs to be a balance between screen time and life. We need to start by eating or spending time with our friends without using our devices. We need to recognize how much digital use is needed for work, navigation or informing friends of our safe return from a party. Do this instead of replicating that habit of responding, posting and self-distraction. We need to make little changes so that we are more present outside of the digital realm. It is difficult, but not impossible. 

So, next time you are in the Dovecote, look up from your phone to say hi to the person behind you in line. At the Bon, pause the Youtube video and people-watch for a little bit. If you have been trapped in Aubrey R. Watzek Library for five hours, step outside and inhale that fresh air. Be conscious of what is important to you and what nourishes your spirit, and devote more time and attention to it. You are only here for four years, so live your life to the fullest. 

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