Have you ever seen the movie Now and Then? The main characters bond over bike rides between towns, trying to find information about the mysterious death of a young boy. Meanwhile, I spent the better part of my summer scrolling through Tumblr, instant-messaging friends who were just blocks away, and watching Youtube videos of regular girls ranting about rudimentary things. I still can’t figure out what’s more pathetic: the fact that people will post proof of their unexciting existence, or that I will willingly watch it.
But I’m not alone. Admit it. You were just sitting there nodding, feeling slightly guilty because of how accurately I portrayed a portion of your summer, too. So, what does this say about the world we live in? Or about what it will become? Who’s to say that in a few years, we won’t all be watching movies set solely in teenagers’ bedrooms, simply following their trivial trials and tribulations and other miscellaneous minutiae? Imagine a twenty-first century remake of Now and Then, where they could debunk the mystery of the boy’s death with the click of a few buttons on Wikipedia. Gone would be the bike rides, the bonding time. The girls’ charming banter would be replaced with keyboard clacks. Is this what the future holds?
Even Eric Schmidt – Google’s CEO – once delivered a speech warning teenagers like ourselves, “you can’t let technology rule you. Remember to take at least one hour a day and turn that thing off.”
Well, I confess: I am one of those people who is never farther than five feet from her phone, who checks her email first thing in the morning and right before bed, who is always just an instant-message away. And although, in this day and age, texting as fast as a stenographer can type is seen as an asset and being reachable at all hours is considered convenient, I think Eric Schmidt is onto something.
There is a point in my day in which I find my phone to be a ball and chain of sorts. I often walk the fine line between being there for the people I care about and being irrevocably linked to their problems and their day-to-day decisions. Of course, I am not solely the victim of this technology trap. I am also an enabler, a proliferator, and someone else’s ball and chain, I’m sure.
When I went camping a few weeks ago, I was struck by the quiet. I was acutely aware of the absence of keyboard clacks and tri-tone chimes that signify incoming text messages. I was free, rid of all the noise pollution, cleansed of all the communicative clutter. And I admit, at first I was a little lost in those woods. What would I do without people’s problems to solve? Without my third and fourth second-opinions? I was detached from my familiar world, left with the fear that it would go on without me in the few days I was unplugged.
But during those days, I discovered my own center of gravity; I realized that like a turtle carries its home on its back, we all carry our own worlds along with us. They are not on the web nor can they be contained by any amount of devices; they are wherever we are. And I discovered for myself a method of communication that had been lost – communication in its most primitive, most natural form. Voices carried across a wide expanse of open ears. Faces, and the immediacy of their reactions.
I found joy in proximal human presence. I dared to have thoughts that demanded more than 180 characters to be vocalized. I could see things far beyond the parameters of my 11-inch computer screen.
So, yes, I am one of those people who is never farther than five feet from her phone, who checks her email first thing in the morning and right before bed, who is always just an instant-message away. But I am also one of those people who will step out of cell range for a week on a camping trip or meditation retreat, who will happily unplug herself from the tangled technological web of her world, who will designate one of her waking hours every day to being completely free of any communication device at all.
We should cherish human connection, but scorn the channels of communication through which people are brought further from each other and further from themselves. Being disengaged from an onslaught of opinions means I have to make up my own. Instead of passing the hard questions off to other people, I am forced to ask myself. And so I leave you with one final question: are you strong enough to do the same?
Katherine Yee, Age 17, Grade 12, Hunter College High School, Gold Key