Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Our plugged in world

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

Every day I walk around the University of Massachusetts, I can’t help but notice everyone who is living on the same campus but is also plugged into their own world.

I get it: a walk to class is boring without listening to music or having a friend to walk with. The one day I lost my headphones, I didn’t know what I would do with myself. I walked in silence, but then realized that rather than silence, it was noise–the noise of the hustle and bustle of students rushing to class and to meetings so concentrated on where they were going, they weren’t observing the natural beauty around them. It’s the beauty of western Massachusetts, of other students, of the sounds that aren’t blocked out by music streaming through headphones.

We are lucky to live at a time where high-tech and portable technology is readily available, but it also is a setback. Thousands upon thousands of people travel through one means of public transportation in a given day, but it’s like they were never there together.

 If you look around on a crowded subway ride to or from Boston, you see people with headphones in, looking down at their phones, reading their Kindle or iPad, or occasionally reading from a real book, newspaper or magazine.

What did people used to do? Sit there quietly, make conversation with the individual sitting or standing beside them, read a book. There were a lot less options, which led to casual conversation and a chance to actually meet people. My parents took the subway to work in New York City every day for years before they met on said train and later got engaged and married.

If someone commented on the book I was reading or asked me what I was looking at on my iPad, hoping for a drawn out conversation, there’s a good chance I would be a little freaked out. People don’t just do that; it’s not the norm now. We have our own friends, so what is the point of making new ones? We have our electronics to keep us company and to keep us connected through social media while we are bored or have time to kill. At least, that’s the mentality.

Sometimes I wish I lived in a time where casual conversation wasn’t awkward or I didn’t feel like I needed to keep up with what’s happening on Facebook or Instagram. I would save so much time from the latter. Granted, it is my choice to do so, but I feel it is necessary whether it is for two minutes or twenty.

“We are tempted to think that our little ‘sips’ of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t,” says Sherry Turkle of the New York Times. Over the past 15 years, Turkle “has studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives.”

“E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation,” Turkle wrote.

Conversations with my grandma about this topic are most interesting. Her favorite pastime is reading novels, something I regrettably rarely do. She asks the same question I am curious about: how will it be possible for kids growing up with all of this technology from the day they are born to engage in a real conversation?

Something else I question is how will people meet others? Relationships spark at school, in the work place, and through other friends, but the times that people such as my parents randomly used to meet and have it work out seem to be dwindling.

However, this is when online dating can come into play. Tinder is now a huge social media platform. People shamefully admit they not only have a Tinder account, but use it too. I don’t think that is something to be ashamed of, as long as you’re using it in an appropriate way. I know many people who met online and are happily married.

“Texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be,” Turkle says. “This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch.” Then we have to get to know the person for who they really are in person. Realize also that people who are having the time of their life posting pictures and statuses on Facebook, might actually not be, especially if they are taking the time to flaunt it.

Everything now is instantaneous. It’s the way we want to use it. “Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits,” says Turkle. Part of growing up now includes being able to separate ourselves from digital and real life. Put down the phone, take in what’s happening around you, but also be able to use it for what it’s there for and what it can do.

Karen Podorefsky is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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