When Adam spoke to our class last week one of the questions he was asked was if he thought that video and media is too much of a distraction from being in the moment. His answer was that he didn’t think it was as long as the use was balanced. I’ve often wondered how much social media takes us away from being fully connected. Last night I went to dinner some friends that I haven’t known for that long, and I immediately made a conscious mental note to put my phone in my purse and be engaged in the moment. These were people that I had an opportunity to connect with and get to know better, and I felt like checking my texts, Instagram account, or Snapchats would have taken me out of the moment.
Being present in my life and not distracted by my phone is something I used to struggle with—I’d find myself endlessly scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed for no reason at all instead of connecting with the people around me. When I realized just how distracted I was, I deactivated my Facebook account for a few months, deleted my Snapchat account, and limited how much Instagram I used. After just a few days, I spent much more of my free time being productive, and I didn’t have an itch to check my phone to see if I had any notifications. I now use all social media again as it is hard to stay connected in today’s world without it, but I am much more aware of when I am being unproductive or missing out on real world connections.
As we continuously look at social media and its ability to connect people, I have come to see just how powerful of a tool it can be. Before this course, I didn’t quite appreciate it in quite the same way, and saw it as something that we do for entertainment that had the potential to cause large distractions in our day to day lives. Can we really blame social media for making us “disconnected” from the present world and “connected” in an online one? Does being connected in an online world ever make up for missed face-to-face interaction?
Paul Miller, a senior writer at a tech site, did an experiment and went offline for a year to see how it impacted his life and his connections with others. Check out his TED talk above to hear about his experience. After he felt weighed down by the constant online interactions, he wondered what he was missing in the offline world. What happened in the first few months was that he got more done—met with people more often, read more books, and went for bike rides outside. He felt his attention span improve, and stopped having to take medicine to allow him to focus. After a bit though, the novelty wore off. Old habits kicked in and Miller began to fill his time with video games instead of pushing himself into the real world. The idea of doing things in the real world like he had planned became a chore. It became hard for him to connect with anyone without forcing himself to do things in the “real world” and without the ability to connect online.
Towards the end of his TED talk on the experience, Miller talks about the missed opportunity for real connection when he was offline. Skyping with his sister allowed him to see his niece and nephew, and he missed out on those opportunities. I think the most profound thing he realizes is that ultimately we cannot blame the Internet for our distracted behaviors. But, we can’t let the Internet control us; we have to use it as a tool for connection. What does the balance look like in terms of offline and online connections in order for us to lead happy and connected lives? We should think of the Internet as a powerful tool, while making sure that we are aware if it is changing our behaviors in ways we didn’t want it to.