Facing Reality Behind Our Screens

After reading the first six chapters of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, I’ve already noticed myself becoming significantly more aware of just how much technology has worked its way into an alarming portion of our daily lives. As Carr bluntly states, “Even the experiences we have in the real world are coming to be mediated by networked computers” (97). Extending this thought to the equally powerful influence of cell phones and social media, I could not agree more. A particular instance came to mind when I first read this statement that made me realize I’ve seen this in action on a large scale. I’ve always been an avid concertgoer, and in the past five years or so of attending my fair share of shows, I’ve noticed it’s become increasingly difficult to find more than a handful of people, in an entire stadium full of attendees, that don’t have a cell phone in front of their face at any given moment. At times the glowing light of hundreds of thousands of phone screens has become so overpowering that I’ve witnessed some of the artists themselves implore the audience to put down their phones for even just one song and be in the moment with them. Granted, I myself have been part of this misguided majority before, falling victim to the temptation of recording a video to show friends or simply to have as a tangible memory down the road, but in those moments I’ve found myself consciously choosing to stick to one video and allow myself to be present for the rest of the concert. It saddens me to think of the firsthand experiences we’re all missing out on by seeing life through the secondhand lens of our phones rather than through our own eyes. If someone goes to a concert and experiences the entire night through a screen, is there really a difference between their experience and that of someone who wasn’t physically present but later watches the same video on their own? Constantly documenting our lives severely dulls our other senses as well; when taking a picture or recording a video you’re very often so focused on what’s happening on the screen in front of you that you see, hear, and essentially feel less of everything that’s actually going on around you.

A potential counter argument here may be that by documenting so much through screens and social media we have the opportunity to share our lives and our experiences with so many others; in doing so, however, the person doing the documenting is essentially forfeiting the opportunity to be present in that moment in favor of sharing it with those who were not. Which begs the question, how much of our own connection to reality should we be willing to risk for interconnectedness? At what point should the line be drawn? In an article published on NPR’s website, the author recalls a time in 2001—years before the first wave of smart phones and subsequent social media addiction—that he had the opportunity to witness an incredible solar eclipse and found himself surrounded by “a sea of cameras and tripods.” I found this image to be of considerable importance because it speaks to the fact that, although the compulsive need to document every moment seems to have increased tenfold in recent years, this dangerous phenomenon has been in the making far longer than many of us realize.

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Author: Katie Flynn

Senior at the University of Delaware studying English and advertising.

8 thoughts on “Facing Reality Behind Our Screens”

  1. Katie, I like how you actually offer a response to the problem that Carr diagnoses—by sharing your decision to take just one video per concert and then to be otherwise “present in the moment”. I like that. You’re not abandoning technology, but you’re not being a slave to it either. One quick question: “Behind” our screens, or “beyond” them? Does it matter? ~Joe

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  2. Extremely well thought out and developed idea. This reminds me of a Louis C.K: all the parents in his daughter’s dance class have their phones out recording. As if people are more interested in a ‘trophy’ or proof to others that their kid did something, than actually experiencing the moment for themselves. I like the counter-argument, it is indeed a fine line between preserving/sharing, and failing to experience/become emotionally involved. I tend to view humans as part of the problem here: people have complexes to show off/ incite jealousy/ gather power for themselves in a social setting. I’ve had people at my school take others’ phones to like their own pictures on Instagram. I mean it must be like any other object we use: useful in moderation, but yeah, when you haven’t seen the band you’re watching except through the phone you’re holding up to record them, then there is a problem.

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    1. This is a great skit—thanks for posting it! It makes me wonder if perhaps the issue is not “The Internet”, but mobile computing, or just phones. ~Joe

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  3. I completely agree with what you wrote. I have found myself in many situations where people are more caught up in capturing a video or picture for their memory than just enjoying the moment. It’s actually a conversation I have a lot with my friends because they take so many photos, but never actually look at them so it just seems pointless. I also found your counter argument very interesting and I like how you included that.

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  4. I also have gone to a lot of concerts and can definitely attest to that, I feel like I constantly have my phone out even if it’s just because I want to be able to go back and relive the moment whenever I want. It makes you wonder if we’re not fully enjoying the experience because we’re too busy documenting with our phones, cameras, etc. I liked the article that you included, it was unique and another example of what you were talking about.

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  5. I think currently we’re living behind our screens but the real goal is to learn to live beyond them. The idea of documenting so much of our lives on social media being driven by a need for attention and admiration seems especially relevant with our millennial generation in which we constantly compare ourselves to one another.

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