Last month, my friends and I traveled to New York City to see the sights and sounds of the city. I could not help but notice the undeniable reliance upon capturing each and every moment. In Central Park, we witnessed a couple take a self-timer photo, and immediately after it was taken, the woman’s smile dropped as she dashed towards her iPhone to analyze the photos, while her partner stood back, remaining in his position, awaiting her approval. A group of women rejoice on the sidewalk as they unanimously decide their third recording of a TikTok dance is post-worthy.
We then visited an attraction where an unforgettable view of the New York City skyline was displayed to tourists. What was intended to be a peak sightseeing opportunity became an agonizing line to get the perfect photo. Of course, I realized I needed to take into account that we were directly in front of The Empire State Building, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how much more enjoyable all of our experiences would have been if we could be free from capturing the moment through a screen and enjoy what is in front of us.
Now, I refuse to write about how technology has turned our lives into a tragic, “Black Mirror”-esque dystopia as I post a mirror selfie to my Instagram story. Still, it is difficult to ignore how different generations value staying connected on social media and how that impacts the stability of our real-life connections.
I once went on a vacation with some family friends, joined by a group of girls who were a few years younger than me. Of course, I indulged in some diligent scrolling during the trip, but there would be times when the girls I was with would take great pride in responding to hundreds of Snapchats before recording TikTok after TikTok. I learned that this is no one-take-wonder process: a good 45 minutes were spent memorizing the lyrics that needed to be lip-synced, perfecting each hair flip, transition and dance move. Each of them had their phones propped up, audios on full volume as they pursued their own separate ventures to post the perfect video…before deleting it 10 minutes after it was posted.
It was incredulous for me to witness the level of dedication that they devoted towards capturing the perfect video. Whether it was driven by a desire to be perceived or receive likes, it seemed as though they were hypnotized, recording after recording. These efforts never seemed to end: every walk on the beach, bike ride and coffee run needed to be documented on at least two social media platforms. It felt like more of a photoshoot than a trip. There was no way for me to talk or connect with them. And if there was, I knew whatever I had to say would not be half as interesting as whatever was happening on their screens.
My question is not “how could they be so enthralled in their phones,” but rather, “what is keeping them from forming such habits?” This is only what has been exemplified for us. Our favorite influencers are sent on brand trips wherein their only responsibility is to do the exact same thing. In January, TikTok beauty and lifestyle influencers Alix Earle and Monet McMichael were invited on a trip to Dubai with Tarte Cosmetics, where they showed off their own personal villas at The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah and a wealth of beauty products, clothes and gifts that awaited them. The two influencers have amassed a collective 7 million followers on TikTok, inspiring viewers that they may be rewarded with the same luxurious lifestyle, but only if they continue to create content.
One afternoon at a coffee shop, I witnessed something especially disheartening: a little girl seated at a table, so enthralled by her iPad that it entirely blocked the view of her grandfather sitting across from her. This struck something within me. What kind of society are we cultivating if our younger generation is led to believe that their screens are more enriching than their real lives?
The first day I spent at home during spring break, I found myself scrolling endlessly. Suddenly, I thought of the little girl in the coffee shop. I became so tired of my screen that I left it in my room while we went out for dinner. During the time spent with my family, I did feel as though I was free from distraction, picking up every joke and listening to every conversation. I will admit, there were times when I felt as though I was missing a limb. Something I was able to notice was after dinner, as the checks were being paid, everyone at the table began to look at their phones, almost as if the eating and conversation was one long performance from which we all needed a break. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I felt an itch to unlock my phone and check my notifications, but I could resist that urge better knowing that I had left my phone at home rather than leaving it in my bag.
Over this spring break, I have become much more comfortable with the option of freeing myself from my phone. It has also allowed me to zoom out and examine how social media has seeped into so many aspects of my life (I enjoy eliminating the worry that the food I ordered will not be Instagram story-worthy). I have found myself listening more intently to conversation, taking in the scenery and laughing much harder. Genuinely.