Friday, 17 October 2014

Eye Contact is a Wonderful Thing

by Nina Luckmann

On the day we were asked to hold a speech about something we were ‘passionate’ about, I found that I didn’t have much to say on anything, and so I resolved to take a break from social media for at least a week in an ‘experiment’ of my own. No Facebook, no tumblr, no Instagram or Snapchat. No watching those click-bait videos, ‘breaking news’ spam posts, or any link with the words ‘…you won’t BELIEVE…’ in the title. I logged off on September 23rd, and planned to come back no earlier than October 5th.

Here’s what I found. In the first week alone, I lost 2kg, completed ALL my homework the day it was set, dedicated myself to the long overdue rereading of ‘His Dark Materials’, cooked half of all recipes in Jamie Oliver’s '30 Minute Meals’ and learnt knife throwing. By week two, I was going on runs every day, had hiked through the New Forest and had got my head around Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘Being and Nothingness’

 . . . In reality, I spent the first few days silently lurking on Instagram, stalking pages of those I both love and despite, or playing game after game of Candy Crush. I still aimlessly scrolled through my newsfeed, or dash, reblogging posts I would actually laugh OUT LOUD at. I started, but still haven’t finished, GRR Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’. I still visited news-aggregate sites. I still clicked on videos. I still wasted time.

After a couple of days, however, things started to change. A few times, when walking to or from school, or in line at the hover, instead of taking out my phone to pass the time and ignore those around me I pretended to hate, I’d look around instead. At the world. At the people around me. Most of them looking at their phones.

The truth is, we are living a life of oblivion. Oblivion of reality. We inhabit a planet where the majority of the population is in a constant state of staring downwards, entranced.

Sometimes I’d catch the eye of an outsider like me. A freak without a phone. Adrift in this flood of bowed heads. A student, whose phone had  probably died. A middle-aged man, probably waiting for a video to load. But these were few. The majority were stooped, staring statues, transfixed by the windows in their palms. Eventually, though, I started to feel less lost without my phone in my hand. It would only come out of my pocket to call someone, or more often, text someone. My eyes met the world more and more, at eye level. 

I don’t understand why these unassuming little devices have so much power over us. Yes, they help us stay in contact with the outside world, but, ironically, they’re doing the exact opposite. We are alienating ourselves from others, retreating into ourselves from others, and losing the ability to communicate in person, face to face. We are limiting ourselves to those on our contact list, preventing us from seeing the rest of the world around us. I think we use them to avoid the confrontational nature of life. We don’t want to talk to someone, so we hide behind our phone, or we’re alone in public, so again hide in the hope that others assume we have friends as we’re obviously texting them.

I found it was mostly teenagers like us who were unable to escape that tiny gravity of connection that constantly drew us out of existence. Perhaps it’s because we don’t know any different. The phone has always been there, ingrained in our lives, then with new over-advertised updates, new IOS8 or new levels to Candy Crush, it remains exciting.

I enjoyed my time away. I understand that, in an increasingly technological world it is difficult to escape the chains of connectivity, but here’s a thought: what if the next fashionable trend is to become unlinked? Only reachable face to face?

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