Switching off the real world

By The Beacon | February 20, 2014 1:25am

Nastacia Voisin |

Log off. Power down. Walk away.

Who are we without our electronic mediums? What do we sound like when the whirr of technology fades? Do we recognize our real voice – or even the sound of our silence?

Whatever side you take on the raging debate on how the proliferation of technology is changing us, no one can deny how hard it is to make eye contact with someone whose head is bent over a smartphone.

Walking the halls, crossing campus, waiting outside a classroom, I witness the intense isolation of people who can’t escape the siren song of technology. I have hyper-connected friends who claim they can’t unplug, who wouldn’t know what to do without their apps and push notifications. They’re proud of the deftness with which they dart from webpage to webpage like hummingbirds sipping nectar.

The lure of the online universe is so much flashier and simpler to control that people switch off the real world and power on their devices with an unnerving frequency. 121 billion minutes - that’s how much average collective time Americans spent per month on social media sites in 2012 according to Nielsen's annual report. And over half that social media sinkhole time happened while we we hunched over a mobile device.

And somewhere between passive absorption of information and reflexive posting, people forget how to create conversation in favor of making noise. By stop-gapping every free moment of time with technology, we lose the ability to be alone with our thoughts and insecurities. It has become simpler to pull out a phone then strike up a dialogue with others - or even ourselves.

We’ve forgotten that the conversations we have when we are alone with ourselves are the most powerful. When the distracting chatter of texts and posts die down, silence works like a mirror, forcing us to turn and gaze inward. We are uneasy about meeting those inner eyes and risking self-judgment. We don’t want to ask ourselves, “Who are you?”

Online we’re surrounded by curated content, with hundreds of friends and the assurance of “like” buttons. Alone, we have only ourselves to challenge, affirm, criticize and impress.

With no filters, without rationalization and easily Googled answers, without reassuring texts, the weight of a cell phone in our pocket, who are we? Who are you?

Do you know?

Turn it off and figure out.

Nastacia Voisin is a junior communication studies and sociology major. She can be reached at voisin15@up.edu.