Columns, Opinions

Richardson ’20: Connect, don’t neglect

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, April 20, 2017

Almost all young people, especially college students, have a form of technology on their person at all times. Whether that be a cellphone, laptop or tablet, all are used to sending messages, calling friends and possibly having a video conversation. All of these usages are perfect for communicating quickly, but I worry this ubiquitous aspect of technology is destroying personal interactions.

I don’t like the idea of neglecting face-to-face interactions just because technology allows us to. Every day, I see personal interactions that have been changed because of technology. For example, I walked into a cafe yesterday and observed the majority of occupants scrolling through their social media accounts, Skyping a friend or aimlessly searching Google instead of talking to the person sitting right in front of them. It’s estimated that nearly 10,000 interactions within Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr happen per second, while 2,600 Skype calls are placed and around 44,000 gigabytes of internet traffic are used every second. Without a doubt, technology, especially its mobile-friendly forms, has an increasingly pertinent space in the lives of many people.

It’s true that new technologies offer more convenience and speed than their predecessors. Attending class while sick in bed has become quite simple if the lecture has been recorded. We can order what are now viewed as necessities — Lyfts, videogames, food or clothing — and expect a delivery within minutes or a few days at the longest. As much as I support these very practical uses of technology, I am against the culture of erasing personal interactions and the growth of impatience that I believe it produces.

There’s an added layer of intimacy during in-person experiences. Being able to clearly see a loved one’s laugh lines, or hug them or “accidentally” bump into them when they say something off-color is priceless and simply not available while communicating through modern-day technology.

These technologies have gained popularity as they allow conversations to occur almost instantly. In a time-sensitive situation, a quick phone call or email can change the entire outcome. Because of this, there is both a pressure and a need to communicate as quickly as possible, thus fostering a culture of impatience that I don’t think would exist if technology wasn’t such a powerful force in daily life. As technology makes communication increasingly efficient, responses to emails, texts and missed calls are somehow required within a minute’s notice, even on “off-days” that were previously agreed upon. In light of this, some students refuse to check or respond to emails from their Brown account over the weekend, while others view this as unmannerly and unprofessional behavior. This difference of opinion can be attributed to the fact that boundaries between business and personal are consistently blurred, all in the name of being flexible and possessing a willingness to go above and beyond. These qualities are important, but they are next of kin to impatience. Consistently demanding and expecting immediate responses crosses into dangerous territory if and when it interferes with life, thus normalizing impatience in every situation we encounter.

Technology has broadened our ability to communicate. Often times, technology is the only way to globally communicate with individuals who may not be reachable otherwise. I am by no means discrediting or diminishing these resolute predicaments. But technological capabilities seem to be overstepping their bounds. I find technology most helpful when it enhances personal interactions instead of erasing them. Yet this is not what’s happening. The more technology advances, the further we stray from face-to-face contact — Facetiming replaces phone calls, which replaced in-person interactions. More technology means less physical presence and more voids that need to be filled. Then, the cycle continues: We ignore our immediate surroundings, as I observed in the cafe, in order to absorb technology-ridden business, and then we rush through the absorption of that business while staying connected and neglecting the connections right in front of us. Striking a balance between an online and offline presence has proven to be difficult, but it can lead to a more fulfilling life, one that does not end in becoming a robot waiting for the next email that needs a response.

Randi Richardson ’20 can be reached at randi_richardson@brown.edu, but don’t expect a response right away. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.