March 24, 2019 | 47° F

COUTO: Our generation must learn to re-engage with surroundings

Opinions Column: Through the Looking Glass


Nowadays, it feels like it’s easier to meet people through dating apps, and I’m not just talking “romantically” here — a lot of these apps have recently installed functions that allow you to search for “friends” in the most platonic sense possible. How can we meet people and engage in proper conversations if we are essentially fixated on our phones from morning till night? As a result, the art of conversation has been lost, particularly among millennials and Gen-Ys. But that’s probably not news to anyone at this point. 

We have forgotten how to engage in conversation because we avoid getting to know people. And we avoid getting to know people because we delude ourselves into believing that our phones supply us with sufficient human interaction. Our digitally-inclined culture promotes the idea that we must constantly be glued to our phone screens, to the point where most of us experience anxiety when we do not have immediate access to our devices. We have become a culture that demands instant gratification and pretends to be satisfied with an increasing number of likes, followers and retweets. In other words, we are giving way to a future that will cease to function efficiently because a great number of the population will be crippled by social anxiety. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 15 million American adults suffer from social anxiety disorder. Interestingly enough, yet not surprising, the typical age of onset is 13 years old. Hence, we are prepping the future generation of Americans to become adults who lack basic social skills and coping mechanisms. We have become so accustomed to accepting this new notion that social interaction is equated with swiping left or right. That the exchange of a few acronyms and emoticons proves we are having meaningful conversations. According to the statistics gathered by Common Sense Media, “a nonprofit focused on helping children, parents and educators navigate the world of media and technology,” teens in the U.S. spend roughly nine hours a day on social media. Therefore, in any given month, teens spend about 252 hours total on social media, which is the equivalent of 10.5 days. While social media can be a great tool for business growth and exposure, as well as to interact with friends and loved ones who perhaps live far away, it is not enough to fulfill the human need for person-to-person communication. I don’t care how many times someone claims that this doesn’t apply to them simply because he or she “hates people," which, by the way, seems to be the new life motto of anyone below the age of 40.  It’s been scientifically proven that the need to connect socially is not only ingrained into our very beings, but it is a “powerful” driving force of the human experience. 

Scientist Matthew Libman, who studies the neuroscience of human connections, concludes that “Different cultures have different beliefs about how important social connection and interdependence are to our lives. In the West, we like to think of ourselves as relatively immune to sway of those around us while we each pursue our personal destiny. But I think this is a story we like to tell ourselves rather than what really happens." He goes on to add that “Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.”

Now, it is obviously unrealistic to assert that smartphones and social media should be completely banned, and besides, their usage in our everyday lives is, as previously stated, not entirely negative. The problem is the amount of time we dedicate to the virtual world encompassed in our electronic devices when we should be engaging with the real world. My proposition is simple, and I have zero doubts that anyone reading this has never been subjected to the following piece of advice: put down your phones. I know it’s particularly hard when we’re in situations that present themselves as “pockets” of time to be filled like waiting in line or for a friend, and as a temporary escape from potentially awkward situations. But I challenge you to resist the temptation to reach for your phone whenever an opportunity arises. Instead of scrolling through your Instagram or Twitter feed, let your eyes observe your surroundings — allow your thoughts to filter and out, and don’t give in to that voice of anxiety that urges you to disengage with reality.

Ana Couto is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English and journalism and media studies. Her column, "Through the Looking Glass," runs on alternate Mondays.

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Ana Couto

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