Did You Check Your Social Media During This Essay?
(written October 2014)
Last year, I had a Blackberry and all of my friends made fun of the “Brick that you call your phone.” I loved this phone. This “Brick” let me text, make phone calls, and was practically indestructible.
And then it became destructible.
Last October my phone and the toilet met for the first time, thus making me part ways with my Brick best friend. Sorority houses can be fun to live in—making new friends and having girls constantly scream in the kitchen, in the study room, in my fucking ear. Okay, so I didn’t love living in a house with thirty-five girls (although I do love them dearly), but it was an experience. In the crisp fall of an October morning, I woke up to use the bathroom. Walking across the hall into the communal stalls, I went into one and placed my phone on top of the toilet paper dispense. Turning around to pull down my pants, I knocked my elbow into the dispenser, and suddenly my life was in slow motion and I was paralyzed. It was like watching a buzzer shot in a basketball game. Only I was on the opposing team of the shooter, and the game was tied. My Brick tumbled and hit the rim of the toilet seat, only to bounce back up and land in the water that everyone claims is “so clean.” If by clean, they mean cleansing your phone, making it so neat and tidy that it will never turn on again, then yes, those people are correct. Safe to say I lost the game between the toilet and me. After years of telling everyone I would never get an iPhone, that I could not handle how much this sleek black and silver object was capable of, I gave in. On the same day I bought the phone, I acquainted myself with the following applications: twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and anything else I could think of that my friends had on their iPhones that my Blackberry was not capable of producing. I became invested in the stupidest shit I had ever seen. But why was I (and still continue to be) so addicted and obsessed with the things that people did privately, but then decided to share? Part of me wants to say it is my self-esteem issue (which will not be discussed), and the other part of me wants to say that it keeps me entertained in class. Either reason is pretty embarrassing, pathetic, and hard to admit. And yet, I cannot get myself to delete any of these applications. I have had my phone for a year.
And then it hit me like my Blackberry hitting the water in that toilet bowl. The people who I surround myself with are just as addicted. (For the record, I just took a Facebook break because I had a notification…) Last night, I was with my friend in the library, who so badly felt the need to take a break from work and Instagram a picture. It was a beautiful picture of the orangey-yellow sunset over the lake by the terrace; with 8 billion filters, but still beautiful. When I asked her why this Instagram needed to happen right now, she nonchalantly responded that it was a good time (Sunday night when students—specifically her followers—are procrastinating) and she will get a lot of “likes.” She asked for my approval before posting the sunset and I kept my eye roll to a minimum. She was smiling each time someone decided to check their own phone, taking a break from their paper or last minute reading due Monday, to “like” her sunset, public for her followers to see. About a half hour later, she looked at me and said that she got fifty likes in thirty minutes. When I gave her my, “so what?” face, she explained how that is a really good ratio. You cannot make this shit up.
Instagram is not the only obsession our generation has fallen into. Remember when your mom wanted you to take out the trash so she put a post-it note on the refrigerator as a reminder? No? Because now she texts you, “Trash,” as a reminder. Text messaging has practically made phone calls irrelevant. If you are on a phone call and suddenly it gets awkward, how uncomfortable does that silence on both ends become? If you are texting, though, and you do not know what to say right when you received that message, you can wait! Yes, it’s annoying for the person waiting for your response, but at least it takes away any awkwardness…right?
The other day when I was on the phone with my father (the one person who refuses to answer my texts—ever), he asked me when the last time I spoke to my younger sister was. I answered that I spoke to her today, and she was doing well at school. When he asked how she sounded and I told him I didn’t know, that it was over text, he lost it. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME, JAMIE?! That is NOT SPEAKING to her!” I do not know which was scarier: the fact that he called me “Jamie” instead of “Jam” or the fact that it did not phase me why he was so annoyed. I mean I did speak to her. She said she was good. Only I did not actually speak to her. I was staring at a screen, and waiting for her lettered responses to reach my phone, so I could send her more letters, instead of word of mouth. My father, who is nearing sixty (bless his heart), did not have this technology growing up. If he wanted to speak to a friend, he would walk out the door and go knock on said friend’s front door. If I did that in 2014, without me warning my friends that I was coming, I think all my friends would file restraining orders against me. This makes me sad. It is frightening that I depend on my phone for so much, even for communication through staring at a screen.
Facebook could be the most frightening obsession for this generation. I remember a simpler time when Facebook was just a way to stalk your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend through pictures that were on his profile. Now you can easily obtain information as deep as where a person currently is, where a picture was taken, even who mutual friends through other friends. Does your brain hurt yet? In addition to all this madness, on Facebook, I have around 2,000 “friends”. In real life, you ask? Not. Even. Close. It is easy for me to count my close friends on two hands. While Facebook is a great way to stay connected and gain information through groups and such, it is also extremely concerning how much a stranger can learn about you just by looking at your page. Besides the insane amount of information I can get, Facebook also goes hand in hand with my procrastination. My eyes go hours without blinking, staring at photos of girls and boys I do not even know! The stalking possibilities are endless. P.S. I am not as creepy as I now seem on paper.
Social media becomes addicting when a person can simply use any of these applications on their iPhone (or any other smartphone, for that matter). When I go out to dinner with my family (six kids including me), someone is always on their phone. The conversation is so limited that when I look up, I am just staring at the top of all my siblings’ heads. While they all have silky smooth and pretty hair, I would rather be talking to their faces. Sometimes I will ask a question and they will not even hear me. Sarcastic me will say something like, “okay, good talk. Let’s do it again sometime.” And that is when my sister will look up and say, “sorry, what was that?” Knowing she is not really sorry, that she was checking to see if her Instagrammed picture hit 100 likes, I then say something like, “I was just saying that you look really pretty, but you missed it so now you’re ugly again.” Mature, I know. My dad now forces us to put our phones in the center of the table so we actually have a nice, family conversation. Thanks, Dad.
SnapChat, though, is an interesting application to grow fond of. The amount of times I receive an extremely unfortunate picture of my friend only to realize I can never see it again gives me mixed feelings. People make faces and do things you would not even know possible because they know that the picture is only temporary. My friends grow confident, losing their fear and embarrassment of just sending a regular photo that the recipient could save forever. No one likes being on the bad end of ugly picture blackmail and SnapChat avoids this from happening. Thank you SnapChat creators, for letting me give everyone a play by play of my wisdom teeth surgery that I cannot remember.
This social media obsession eats at us alive, the constant need to know what other people are doing, the popularity gained on social media, and the addiction no one can explain. I am guilty of it, too. It is hard to not be a part of a conversation just because you did not see an uploaded picture, or a funny status. But sometimes it is so overwhelming that I will spend a day or two without my phone. I will not check Instagram because I do not feel the need to know that my friend Instagrammed a picture of an ice cream cone that I know she did not eat. I will deactivate my Facebook because why should I care what so-and-so ate for dinner.
* * *
There was once a time when cars did not have a GPS system, where the passenger had to look at a map to direct the driver. There was a time when there were no camera phones, where the teenage punks enjoyed a concert real time, without seeing it through a lens. There was a time when people actually kept address books and a time your phone was not the source over every last bit of information that would keep for you in case you forgot your friends address, or birthday, or how much he or she ran or slept that day and night. (If you think I am kidding about the last one, I am not. Check out what a Fitbit is.) So what is the fascination with all this new technology that is slowly ruining our ability to act in a social environment? Honestly, there may never be a definitive answer and that is what scares me.