Shut off your phones, close your laptops, and live a little


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Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon— they're all highly counterproductive.

As students, we're quite experienced in the ways of procrastination, and social networking has, undoubtedly, made the situation worse. What began as a way to unite people, a revolution in communication and social interaction, seems to have put us all under some maddening spell.

I think most would agree that for the average young adult, social networking is a problem. It's almost instinctual — the moment we flip open our laptops or take our smartphones out of our pockets, our immediate reaction is to load our Facebook pages, check our email, or survey any recent tweets. In May 2011 alone, Americans spent 53.5 billion minutes on Facebook. That's more than 10,000 years of distraction in the matter of mere weeks.

Take, for instance, the story of Jake Reilly, a 24-year-old student from Chicago who decided that he spent far too much time on his computer and his cell phone. Reilly approached the problem in a way that most would deem crazy— he got rid of all of it. For 90 days, Reilly lived without a phone, without email, and without Facebook.  What he found was that he had more time to spend on work and academics, more personal relationships with the people closest to him, and little distraction.

Yet, the problem is beginning to reach beyond mere distraction. In reality, a tool that was originally intended to break down the barriers that separate us seems to be pushing us further and further away from gaining an understanding of what it means to be human and what it means to communicate. Instead of stating the obvious — that the addiction to social networking is an impediment to productivity — it's time to begin to consider the long-term and overtly negative effects that a dependence on technological communication has on the human experience.

The way in which we foster our relationships has changed. Phone calls are becoming increasingly obsolete. Letters are dead. Contact and communication, for most, means the tapping of keys and the click of a mouse. As our ability to communicate over long distances for extended periods of time, the distance between us is actually increasing. The depersonalization of communication in the past five years alone has shown serious regression in the actual humanity of our society and our culture.

As we begin to depend on a machine for interaction, our technological literacy increases and our ability to foster and maintain real relationships dwindles. In a sense, sites such as Facebook and Twitter are controlling entities, not only in the sense of time but in the sense of social values. The ability to post statuses has created a severe cult of inflated egotism within the psyche of the American youth.

In seconds, we can tell the world what we're doing at any given moment. The capability of sites to allow users to upload and share photo and video has been detrimental to the intentions that govern how we socialize. When's the last time you were at a party where people weren't constantly pausing to take photos and shoot videos? The joy of being "social" seems to have shifted from the real world to the cyber world. College students should be "going out" on Fridays with the intention of enjoying themselves, not with the goal of creating a portfolio to show off to the world twelve hours later. It's as if we've lost track of the meaning of relaxation, the meaning of friendship, the meaning of socializing.

Facebook, Twitter, even MySpace — for those of us who still use it — have all contributed to a widespread American egotism that basically screams, "I need to be heard." Like all commodities of a capitalist system, such modes of communication are objects of widespread materialism and corporate profiteering. One on hand, users actively "build" a profile as they would a car or a home or career.

The motive behind the labor is to glow, to boast, to scream out to the world who you are — or who you want the world to think that you've become. 

On the other, what we have are sites that essentially exploit individual users as free labor. While we spastically toil to update, upload, and "Like," massive corporations around the world rake in millions of dollars in advertising and e-commerce.

Thus, the issue with social networking seems to be a multifaceted one. It contributes to low productivity, to the objectification and depersonalization of human interaction, to widespread materialistic egotism, and to corporate greed. Yet, it would be difficult and perhaps ludicrous to assume that we should all take up a task like Reilly's. But what Americans need to do is, at the very least, realize what so much time and attention to social networking means for our culture.

It's not just about keeping in touch. It never has been. It's about creating the person we want to be without actually being that person.

So next time you're on Facebook or Twitter, consider closely the reasons for deleting that one "ugly" picture, or for posting those Big Sean lyrics. If you know yourself, you'll most likely come to the realization that that you are and what you say on the Internet isn't "you" at all.

In order to try to free myself from this social-media monotony, I plan on following in the footsteps of Reilly, putting down my phone and my laptop — if only for a week to start. Check back in the March 2 paper to see how I did.

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