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“It was rough, but we had loads of fun, those lads and I.” As I sat on my grandpa’s beat-up couch while he rambled on about his schemes as a young Coast Guardsman in the Korean Conflict, I mindlessly scrolled through my phone, letting out a “mhm” or “wow” every now and then, just to make him think I was listening. At the time, I thought nothing of my discourtesy, commonly practiced by the majority of the teenage population, as I was completely engrossed in a Tumblr post about Jean-Michel Basquiat’s early years as a musician, stunned by his life story and with complete disregard for that of my grandpa, or Pop, as we call him.
The following week, I was assigned to analyze William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” in my AP English Literature class. Wordsworth’s message was clear: with drowsy, nostalgic language that emphasized his past and Romantic features that solidified his present, he presented the idea that humans are unable to fathom the significance of the beauty in front of them, leading to desirous thoughts of the past when alone. I decided that if this was true in Wordsworth’s time, it’s beyond true today in our technological society. With this, I remembered my visit with Pop. It was only when I got home that day and failed to recount my grandpa’s stories to my mom that I realized how reliant upon social media I am for both entertainment and validation. I, like many of my peers, ignore the beauty of the present and face the consequential angst and perplexity as I attempt to relive the past. I felt terrible about my lack of respect for my grandpa and anxious to remember his words, to witness his passionate storytelling abilities again.
Although not many are quick to admit it, this paradoxical problem of social media dependency resonates with people from all walks of life. To speak from personal experience, my phone is never off, never more than five feet away from me, never inaccessible; I have a personal laptop and a school-issued netbook, both of which are barely ever turned off. I think of my social media platforms as some of my most prized possessions, tools with which I build my confidence and validate my existence; if I’m not able to watch at least one episode of Friends every day, I feel like I missed out on something important and enriching, an ironic and quite disappointing sensation considering that I could be absorbing the events of the Korean Conflict from the perspective of a Guardsman.
I could argue that this reality is merely the result of my childhood that just so happened to bridge two millenniums, two centuries, and two decades, during which drastic changes occurred in the areas of technology and societal expectations. Although much of my childhood was influenced by technological advancements, I was able to experience a more universal simplicity in my younger years, one of watching bulky VCR tapes, actually playing outside, and playing the board game “Chutes and Ladders” with my sister. But all this could easily be considered an excuse. So, how do we fix this?
William Wordsworth said it best: “For oft, when on my couch I lie, in vacant or in pensive mood, they flash upon that inward eye, which is the bliss of solitude; and then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils.” If we are to solve the problem of seeking validation or entertainment from a two-by-five-inch screen, we might as well go back in time. Or so it seems. In reality, the possibilities are as endless as the list of further technological advancements to come. It would be unfair to lose hope for humanity’s appreciation of the beautiful present.
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