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A societal expectation of communication through media

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Ironically, while on social media a few weeks before this discussion question was raised regarding “media fasting”, I came across a tweet that I would highlight as being a powerful representation of the embodiment of social and cultural issues that being constantly plugged in has both created as well as perpetuated: a societal expectation of communication through media. The tweet reads “‘I’m not ignoring you intentionally I just have no motivation to respond the way that I feel you deserve’ – a novel by me” with over 28,000 retweets and 64,000 likes, Twitter demonstrates the mass audience reached through social media apps as popular as such. The sheer numbers of people in agreement with the tweet, whether it be expressing such approval through a “like” or “retweet”, is an indisputable demonstration of the fact that social media usage has – as Canadian professor and media guru Marshall McLuhan has warned for decades – become an “extension of man”. This extension of man results in embedded societal expectations for communication through media. For a person to be considered ignored, it constitutes no acknowledgement or reply on the other end of conversation. This is exactly why the tweet is so problematic: an expectation has been established that if a media notification is not immediately acknowledged, the sender to the recipient may feel ignored if they do not see an instant response back. A key function of media being communication – noting its constant presence in our lives that give us access to reach out to anyone else “plugged in” in seconds – I wanted to test this theory out through the 24 hours of digital detox, and see which of my friends would react negatively if I was absent from my phone for a couple of days.

Going into the experiment with the understanding that I am someone who constantly has her phone on her, majority of the time solely for the use of listening to music walking through campus from class to class, I knew I would face better chances of not breaking the challenge in interacting with my social media if I picked a weekend day, specifically, Saturday. For most students, Saturday would be considered a day to relax before going out at night. As for me, Saturday is a rugby day. This presented the perfect opportunity to see how social media usage maintains its influential position in being a key proponent to an environment as disconnected from media as being an athlete participating in a sporting event would entail. Waking up at 8, to my phone alarm, I realized I had already failed the first media interaction of the day by turning my alarm off and scanning the few texts I had received overnight. Before unlocking it to respond, however, I considered how much better I’d feel if I truly went from dawn to dusk with zero technology and set the phone back down before going any further. What I thought would be a dreary start to the day not having any of my “morning music” ready to play on my phone turned out to be a beneficial thing in getting my day started faster than would be had I spent ten minutes lying in bed procrastinating the wake up by aimlessly scrolling through twitter. Arriving to the field on time, I couldn’t help but notice the exhausted looking faces blankly staring at their phones through tightly pulled up hoodies. The few smiling faces I did see were the ones that were already running around, shed from their handheld devices and soaking up the crisp morning air through rosy cheeks and excited banter. Without deliberation, I knew which group I would join upon dropping my bags onto the damp field below. I had no idea that being free from feeling obligated to check my phone every hour and reply to whoever had sent a text or Snapchat within that time would allow me to truly feel I was able to appreciate my surroundings in the present moment. I had never seen, or noticed, so many smiles surrounding me. Metrics are shed, and amount of followers play no significance in how we view one another as teammates and peers. We just exist. We just be. The kids who I have previously considered to be shy become more open, feel room to expand and not be viewed as their Instagram aesthetic and mass amount – or lack thereof – of followers. We played four games of rugby, and I was running around from 8am to 12pm with absolutely zero care in the world.

This tech-free dynamic quickly changed as we arrived back at the rugby house post-game for our tradition of hosting the other teams over for a social. Music started blasting as multiple girls took to the amp to try and set up as DJ, scrolling through their playlists and sharing titles of songs with one another. Others, now getting comfortable in letting loose after hours of brutal tackling, did not shy away from instantly pulling out their own devices to record snapchats of the surroundings. The party continued on, with me being one of the only individuals truly able to dance around free from worrying about the nonexistent device in my hand. A play fight broke out within the first hour, with my teammates setting up a makeshift boxing arena for some Rocky action, and phone cameras being pulled out immediately followed suit. Instead of sole vocal encouragement, almost every person making up the surrounding circle of spectators were looking through their lens rather than with their eyes at what is physically directly in front of them. This was saddening to me to come upon the realization that we no longer live in the moment because we live with the mindset that the moment must be captured, therefore unable to truly experience being in the now.

Communication in humans, originally nothing more than gestures of the hand and attempts at speech that eventually resulted in the establishment of language and dictation, has increasingly seen itself as being rooted in the hands of the device of the owner. The fine line between innovation and dependency is crossed when looked at from a technological perspective, and I firmly believe it trickles down to being a root of democracy in the United States now. More so than ever before, individuals have access to a virtual platform that was previously nonexistent before booming success of digital media to exercise their first amendment rights; to hear, and be heard. This experiment has left me with the conclusion that social media is becoming a part of human nature, just as McLuhan had warned in the 1900’s. With rapid advancing of technology and smartphones becoming more consumer friendly and accessible, it becomes imperative to have a phone on oneself at all times; otherwise, one feels naked. How can a singular, handheld device make oneself feel so unvalued and alone without access to it? Why is it that, even considering the constant options for physical entertainment during the day alongside my active participation in such events, I was still fighting the habit of reaching for my pocket to check for new notifications that I subconsciously knew I couldn’t even respond to? Has media usage become that instilled in our society, that it can be considered as being a newly developed aspect of human nature? Pondering these questions has established a new personal goal of referring back to this digital detox exercise every so often for sake of peace of mind and cleansing from the superficial societal expectations of self-worth revolving around social media: a mindset that I will never feel comfortable supporting or adapting.

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