(Dis)connect in the Digital Age

It’s midway into 2015, and we’re living at the mercy of our smartphones. Our attention spans are only as long as the next beep, ding, or buzz that commands our eyes and focus away from the situation at hand. We’ve found a thousand ways to utilize technology wirelessly, yet we find our minds plugged in more than ever before.

One invisible wire pulls us forcefully toward iMessage, to conversations that just can’t wait until the end of concrete, person-to-person ones; instead prompting the words “one minute” to escape our lips and commanding the present moment to pause for our convenience. Another leads our fingers to scroll, scroll, scroll – past #foodporn that we can’t taste and vacations that we weren’t on. Yet another invisible wire begs us to refresh Twitter “just one more time” in a never-ending avalanche of other people’s life updates. Sometimes we’ll add our own thoughts to the mix, but more often than not we simply observe. We see what’s going on through a distorted kaleidoscope of mobile apps and secondhand experience.

Meanwhile, the world around us keeps on turning – in that remarkable way it does – and we’re much too plugged in to notice. Too preoccupied to be present.

Too connected to actually connect. 

Don’t get me wrong; in some ways, the current technological era has revolutionized and drastically improved the way we connect with others. I could send an instant snapchat from my landlocked Midwestern couch all the way across the world, and about 30 seconds later I’d be salivating at what my friend is having for dinner in Taiwan. Although my college roommates all hail from different states, online video chat made it as if we’d never left for the summer. Even now, my mom’s overflowing wisdom on doing laundry and interacting with boys is simply a phone call away (a luxury that should always be taken advantage of, might I add).

With a couple taps on a screen, I can instantly access breaking world news, stock market values, the predicted temperature for kickoff time on Saturday (79 degrees), my daily mileage in steps, and even the name of that song faintly playing over the North Dining Hall speakers. But at what cost?

Let me toss some numbers at you: the average college student uses his or her phone for about nine hours a day. NINE. According to a 2012 survey, 61% of respondents aged 18-24 sleep alongside their phone. 36% of smartphone owners say they “couldn’t live without” their phones. A Baylor University survey revealed that 90% of students say they text while eating, and over 80% text while using the restroom. An honest 10% even admitted to texting during a funeral.

Yep, you read that correctly.

If our relationships with our mobile devices were personified, they’d most likely fall under the category of “clingy ex-boyfriend from hell.” When faced with the statistics of our generation’s technology obsession, we recognize the unhealthy dependency of it all. We roll our eyes at the absurdity of sending a “BRB” from a somber church pew. Yet, even still, we continue to act as if our iPhones are an extension of ourselves, an appendage whose even-momentary absence can cause us anxiety and restlessness.

Sometimes, we need to cut it off.

Technology can enhance our relationships and bolster our everyday existence in millions of ways that are only growing in rank, but often the best connections are initially made off-screen. A philosophical conversation over coffee with an old friend. Harmless, fleeting banter with an elderly man walking his dog by St. Mary's Lake. A fit of giggles brought on by the silly weekend antics of your roommate.

None of these hypothetical exchanges would have occurred had you entered into the scene with your head bent down, eyes fixated on your phone screen. Here lies the paradox, the "dis" part of connection: for only when we first disconnect will we be able to truly reconnect with ourselves, our surroundings, and the people that matter.

It’ll be difficult, but slowly and surely we need to assure ourselves that we are more than a collection of apps, posts, and flimsy glass screens.

We need to stop observing the world simply through Instagram filters and reducing its splendor to one-worded hashtags.

We need to realize that live-streaming or live-tweeting is not the same as living


Simple ways to (dis)connect every once in awhile:

  • When cramming for an exam… Put your phone somewhere that it won’t be a visible distraction and you’ll be less likely to desire to use it: placed in a different room, tossed into a dresser drawer, flung out the window, whatever means necessary. (Except, please, not the third one).
  • When dining or hanging out with friends… Make a pact to keep your cell phones out of the picture. Even better, make a stack of all your phones at the end of the table so that the urge to glance down at your screen is stifled. The first person who reaches for theirs has to pay the bill or, in the DH edition, serve everyone fro-yo.  
  • When snoozing… Turn off, silence, or stow away your technology 30 minutes before you intend to go to bed. This way, you have time to disconnect as you unwind for the night, and you won’t be kept up too late by Tumblr cat memes that are suddenly much more interesting than sleep. 
  • When you have free time... Wait, what free time? If you do happen to snag a glorious moment to yourself, don't simply scroll past it like it's another article your aunt shared on Facebook. Make the most of it. Get some fresh air. Pick up that bestseller you've been meaning to read. Run a mile. Learn something new about someone. Lose yourself in your own mind (trust me, it's a brilliant place in there). 



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