Maybe Jean Baudrillard was right, and the system is accelerating toward implosion. Information in the 21st century is easily dispersed and produced, but at what cost? I’m a long-time politics junkie, binging political information like new episodes of a TV show. But I kept this spring break relatively information-free, and it has done wonders for my stress levels and mental health. Instead of keeping up with hour-by-hour updates, I limited myself to skimming the occasional article and glancing at news notifications.
Unpopular opinion: I adore the food at Cornell Dining and still retain a meal plan with them as a senior. As a result, I’ve spent quite a bit of time at the various dining halls across campus and I’m noticing the increasing plethora of people on their phones while eating, usually alone. It seems to be a wider phenomenon. Even my dad does it too now at home — and recently I called him out for it. “You’re using a phone after I took a five hour-long bus trip to see you?
Raise your hand if you used social media today. If you’ve posted in the past month. If any part of that post — photo, editing, caption, geotag — was vetted by someone else before publication. Wave it around if you’ve ever done something or gone somewhere specifically “for the ’gram.”
It’s true that this behavior has become normalized, and that I myself participate. Neither negates the fact that it’s totally bananas.
Prof. Lee Humphreys, communication, spoke about her new book, The Qualified Self: Social Media and the Accounting of Everyday Life, and how social media habits in the present day and the 19th century are similar.
I worked in a research lab at a university in my hometown this past summer and, for the first time in my life, experienced what it’s like to have a long commute — an hour and a half each way standing in a hot, humid, insanely crowded subway car. Most of my fellow commuters spent these long and miserable daily trips on their phones, either scrolling through Weibo (think Twitter) feeds, watching viral videos, playing online games, binging the newest hit TV series or reading trending articles on Wechat (a Chinese amalgamation of Facebook and Instagram). Hundreds of commuters with headphones on staring down at their smartphone screens was quite a sight be behold but also incredibly frustrating, especially when I had to transfer lines at one of the busiest stations downtown, and had to follow a massive crowd of people up flights of stairs to another platform, a process slowed down significantly by those who were too absorbed in their phones to even walk properly. Despite my frustration, and because social learning is a natural thing that we all do, a few days into this commuter life, I also started killing time by spending it solely on my phone, going through my Weibo feed more times than necessary, replying to comments, reading Wechat articles that I normally wouldn’t care for and, when all that was still not enough, busted out my VPN to go through Instagram and Twitter. Yet, as you may have guessed by now, aggressively working my way through every social media platform every morning and evening did not make me feel “more connected” to friends and family, all the articles I read did not make me significantly more knowledgeable in certain areas or enlighten me on social or political issues, nor did the viral funny videos make me happier.
It’s a well known fact that we have been surrounded by technology in almost all aspects of our lives. With buzzwords such as AI, deep learning, blockchains coming every month, technology now commands a lot of attention. And not in a good way. By surrounding, I mean a constant bombardment. By commanding attention, I mean controlling us.