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.