Technology — in any form — is the kryptonite of most students I know. It’s the fertile breeding grounds for procrastination, fraught with click-bait, buzzing notifications, and constant stimulation.
I feel myself fall prey to it all the time, and time is exactly what it preys on: a five minute break on Facebook can easily put the brakes on the rest of my homework for the afternoon; a quick peek at Chitter before bed can destroy my carefully-allocated seven-and-a-half hours of sleep for the night. As we continuously choose to fritter away time in the virtual world, despite the overwhelming real-world tasks and responsibilities we face as students, it is as if we’ve become addicted to the distractions our technology provides.
And as technology continues to encircle every part of our lives, the illusion that it can solve all our problems and enrich all our experiences becomes increasingly problematic.
While getting acclimated to university life this year, I ran through the usual freshman shebang — acquainting myself with as many of my new peers as possible. Some friendships blossomed as normal, from meeting in class to planning hang-outs after school, and others never quite made it past the initial introduction stage, which is also to be expected. But still there were others, a new type of friendship, which led me to broach both new and disturbing frontiers in my virtual existence.
“Just-for-texting” friends is a concept my exasperated friend had to laboriously explain to me a few months ago. Apparently not all friends are those that you hang out with on the weekends or even physically talk to in class; some friendships exist solely over text, Snapchat, and Instagram. Friends with whom you instantly think to share a funny picture with over Instagram, but could never share a smile with in class because that would be weird, right? Friends whose voices you may not even be able to recall. As absurd as this concept seemed to me at the time, when I looked back I started to — horrifyingly enough — recognize such dynamics in my own life.
My most memorable example would have to be the time I had an entire virtual relationship in my first term at university. The entire three month debacle witnessed maybe two dates and only a handful of real-life interactions; the rest ensued over a boatload of daily texting and Snapchatting. It was all justifiable at first — we were too busy with school and work, our schedules didn’t mesh, we didn’t have any mutual friends — but, despite any chemistry we may or may not have had, the illusion of the sustainability of a dominantly-virtual relationship inevitably shattered in due time.
Forming real intimate connections takes more than just exchanging banter.
For me, that relationship perfectly encapsulated the allure of virtual friendships. When you’re lounging around at home on a Thursday evening, or waiting for the bus to reach your stop, there’s something undeniably comforting about having a contact or two who are always ready to strike up a conversation. Reaching out to someone that you know will respond when you need a distraction or are bored is the main niche virtual friends fill. With friends literally in your pocket, we can ensure that we never truly have to spend a moment alone. But how healthy can this really be?
In all the ways technology is already embedded into our lives, and constant connection peppered through our days, the harsh reality is that friends like these only serve to entangle ourselves further with virtual obligations.
Forming real intimate connections takes more than just exchanging banter — an entire physical dimension to relationships is lost in translation over text, leaving us with nothing more than mere words on a screen at the end of the day. And to boot, all these nightly chats dragging on for hours certainly aren’t doing wonders for your productivity, progress towards your personal goals, or beauty sleep.
Our desire and willingness to invest in hollow, ultimately unfulfilling relationships speaks to an issue deeper than simply addiction to technology — it also hints at out need to form real and meaningful connections with our peers and significant others. As is typical of technology and all its apps and functionalities, the promises of Chitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp to further connect us create a strong belief and attachment, but there are some things that simply cannot be obtained through a screen on the comfort of our couch at home.
Real, meaningful, healthy relationships require time and presence — of mind and body — and while social media may seem to be solving all our problems when it allows us to effortlessly connect with everyone, even people that your “real” life would never be able to accommodate, the multitasking really just left me missing the best of what was around me in reality.
When I finally began to put the pieces of my ‘virtual’ relationship together, and understand that it would never move beyond my cell phone screen, I knew I couldn’t sacrifice any more of my time and personal well-being to sustain the endeavour. Our obstacles of having enough time or enough opportunities to meet up were real life problems, and the magic hand of social media could never interfere to help solve them. Additionally, the text conversations that lasted for hours on end were slowly starting to erode my sense of solitude and well-being, as well as my productivity. And at the end of the day, all I knew of him was words on a screen, and it was undoubtedly the same experience in the other direction.
There are a lot of neat things our technology can do for us — provide instant directions to the nearest Timmies when you’re in the middle of nowhere, Google a picture of a young Pierre Trudeau to see if he was from whom our dashing PM got his good looks, and yes, share a funny meme with your friend — but at the same time, there are definite pitfalls we can fall victim to if we continue worshipping our tech as the end-all be-all solution to our life’s problems.
It may seem like our entire life is perfectly laid out in our smartphones, but there are certain experiences and problems you can never fully embrace until you lift up your head from your phone screen and face them head-on.