We are never bored. We never run out of things to look at unless we lose signal, or — God forbid — our charger.
We are either distracting ourselves during class, eating a meal or avoiding communicating with other people. It is so easy to watch endless amounts of stories and videos with our best friend: the phone. The convenience of watching other people’s lives without the pesky social nuances of reading facial expressions and utilizing archaic skills of empathy and compassion is too nice when discomfort can be avoided by removing human interaction entirely. Mindfulness, the antithesis to this phone-absorbed world, may die out with our generation and be regarded as foolish as floppy disks or stick shift transmissions.
The mindfulness I speak of can be thought of as being present with your thoughts, actions and feelings as opposed to dwelling on the past or reaching for the future, or otherwise distracting the mind with an LED screen. Without this mindfulness, who can focus anymore? I feel like a puppet, controlled by the strings manufactured by Apple, Facebook and Google. The rich and their tech-savvy psychologists are laughing at our generation’s futile attempts to break free.
I struggle to solely think about one thing for longer than 10 minutes before I consider checking social media, tests, games and emails. I’m not mentally weaker than everyone else because I see everyone else doing it too. Sitting in the back of Lecture Hall 1 grants you the special pleasure of viewing dozens of screens of varying sizes rotating through each user’s specialized set of dopamine-triggering apps and sites. How can History 104A: Modern American Civilization or Biology 113: Intro to Cell & Molecular Biology compete with Facebook, Amazon or Snapchat?
I used to consider myself just anxious to be done with a class or a paper, but that is being too critical of myself. Years of screens have hardwired my brain to seek new stimulation constantly. No matter how much sleep I get or fruit I eat, my ability to legitimately focus does not improve beyond its already dismal levels.
Halfway through my high school years, my school’s administration changed their policy to permit phone usage during lunch and between classes, presumably to reduce the number of students getting in trouble for having their eyes glued to their devices. I was ecstatic! “More game time,” I thought. Lunchtime became slightly quieter, however, and far fewer words were exchanged at my table. Those 40 minutes became dominated by the ebbs and flows of phone usage, with sporadic conversations sprinkled in. The worst part of it was that instead of wanting to talk to someone, the act of conversation became forced. This decision definitely worsened my screen addiction.
Even as I am writing this column, I am listening to music and keeping my eye on the phone, always on guard for a possible message. I should be celebrating this wonderful gift of being able to put words on a paper from a bunch of neurons by devoting my full attention to writing it, but I can’t. Even meals are dominated by screens. I am rarely without my phone during a meal, keeping me entertained throughout the mundane activity of providing sustenance to my body.
Mindfulness now needs to be taught in our educational system. Being present is a rare and difficult skill to cultivate. The only class I’ve been present in has been yoga, for being present was the purpose of it. Certainly, this was not so in my biology, history or chemistry classes, where devoting my full mental capacities was just about impossible. Yoga, unlike the other subjects, is focused on tuning in with the body, noticing aches and pains, stretches and rhythms of the breath. Technology is purposely avoided throughout the practice of yoga, and for good reason.
We are becoming fused with our screens, one iPhone at a time, lest we actively work against the tides of Silicon Valley. This semester, let’s not latch onto our screens during class or while we study, but do something more productive like pick up that dusty novel you’ve always wanted to finish.
Nicholas Walker is a senior majoring in biomedical engineering.