As an observant college student at Penn State University, a school boasting more than 40,000 attendees, I am almost constantly surrounded by a great number of others whether it be in the classroom, in line for lunch, or walking across campus. There is a spirit within Penn State that is hard to pinpoint, but it is something you detect almost immediately upon arrival. The best way I can describe it is something that sparks a flame within you to reach beyond yourself and touch the lives of others in a positive manner.
This spirit is dying.
And I’m not just talking about Penn State, I’m talking about the spirit within this country as a whole.
When you’re learning to circumnavigate the swarms of students making their way through their daily lives, you begin to notice some things. Nearly half of students walking by always have earplugs in, something I am very often guilty of myself. Their heads are usually tilted down like they’re studying the imaginary intricacies of the pavement. They refuse to make eye contact with anyone and seem to just try to make it to their class without acknowledging external existence. Another crowd often seen are those who tend to their cell phone like it’s their newborn child. They text, snap, tweet, swipe, poke, tap, and click countless numbers of time a day without even realizing the magnitude of their time spent on this single little device. It’s almost like the cell phone has become a kind of wonder companion, something we constantly feel the need to check on or respond to whenever someone contacts us. We’ve adapted it as a part of ourselves, something we can never leave the room without and can only do away with when we’re in the company of others.
Why do we fear being by ourselves, cutting off from our technological lifelines and just relying completely on the strength of our own ingenuity? Have our lives really become that boring?
No, WE have become that boring. Technological leaps have impacted our society in unforeseen ways. Everything is in quick shallow bursts of inspiration or expression. Photography is taking an extra beating in our day and age. We feel the urge to take pictures of an exotic Moroccan meal with a lazy sub-line reading, ‘Spicing it up today, yummy’. We feel the urge to take pictures of ourselves at arms length, label it something cute like a ‘selfie’ and then write a brief sentence about our self-confidence. We take low-quality pictures of a California sunrise, accompany with a moving Bible verse of nature’s beauty, and move on. What happened to enjoying something like nature or food or inner and outer beauty by yourself, for yourself without feeling the need to share it to a throng of people who probably will not care anyways.
Social media outlets like Twitter, Instragram, and Facebook take life and chop it up into little tiny thirty-second consumables that we are constantly throwing at one another on a regular basis. My father put it very succinctly when he summed up Facebook in three words, “Look at me.” I keep my profile mostly just to wait out the 4-5 days of nothingness sprawled on my news feed until I finally find something worth looking at for 2 minutes. I check Facebook at least ten times a day, clearly indicating that I am a self-admitted addict to the technological fantasy we wrap ourselves in. Though I feel like not enough people are aware of the problem. It’s something that is blatantly obvious, that you can hear by the importance of our day-to-day conversations or see by what passes as entertainment in the film and music industry. It sucks the humanity out of us, confines daily problems and stories to plastic screens and metal boxes. The world around us is becoming defined by circuitry that we gladly plug ourselves into without a second thought. The true malignant nature of our addiction manifests in our puzzled looks and condescending eye rolls upon hearing of a friend or family member who doesn’t have a Facebook or a cell phone. They are suddenly from the dark ages, they are prehistoric, ignorant, closed-minded and foreign. We feel like they are a class of neanderthals quietly fleshing out their time on Earth before they are soon cast into extinction by the relentless engine of so-called ‘progress’.
The truth is that we are progressing into another dark age but not one ruled by technological stagnation. Our coming dark age is one defined by the replacement of the human experience for an artificial one much more placating, stimulating, and pleasurable. It is coming unseen because too many of us are so caught up in our own universes that the impact it may impart doesn’t take a priority in our lives. Society looks down upon the use of drugs for good reason, they substitute reality for fantasy while draining you of your health and well-being. What society has overlooked however is that our devices have taken the same role. This is the new drug, it’s legal, it’s convenient, and you can “stop whenever you want to”. The joke is on us, we’ve worked so hard on building personal utopias for ourselves birthed through easy-access and the widespread wealth of knowledge and experience. This has been taken to such an extreme that we’re left with amazing and beautiful shiny laptops, cellphones, and TVs but neglected, empty, and shallow spirits that cannot function a day in their lives without getting their fix of activity.
I realize that this post is long and tedious and isn’t all that great of an outlook on the American people but I think it a necessary one because I care deeply about the path we are choosing. It is perhaps irreversible but something needs to be said coming from the very generation who is most perpetuating this humanistic entropy. When I bring up these issues to friends and colleagues they seem to shrug it off as something far overblown and irrelevant. This attitude in itself is just a symptom of our technological brainwashing. I hold out hope though that we can close our Macbooks, turn off our cellphones and take life for the adventure it used to be. We don’t need to rely on our creations to make us feel whole. We can take back our lives and make something truly great out of the time given to us.
John Plucenik | Penn State | @JPlucenik