Lately, I have been spending an immense amount of time in front of a lot of screens. Class has moved full time onto the computer, with Zoom being used for class sessions, Canvas and Google Docs for completing assignments and plenty of other online resources being utilized by professors for various interactive modules. When I am not on the computer, I am spending much of my time on my phone, leading it to become my primary source of entertainment and communication. I hate it so much.
I am aware of just how harmful this habit has become, but what choice do I have? I cannot just avoid class and keep my computer switched off. If I swear off my phone, then how can I remain connected to my friends and family? It is a Catch-22, one I am sure I am not alone in suffering. Since I got my first phone in middle school, I was keenly aware of the grip it had on me, excitedly answering every message and notification to keep up with my peers. Over time, the excitement faded into a responsibility, which then faded into an unconscious desire to respond to every sound my phone made.
Despite the fact that I used my phone to stay in touch with my friends, family, and the world at large, I couldn’t help but feel remarkably isolated. Here I was living in the most connected time in human history, yet it didn’t feel that way. Phones, screens, and social media were all things I used too much when I didn’t have to, and now that I don’t have a choice, it feels suffocating.
There is no break from it. I spend so many hours sitting at my desk that I do not realize how much time has passed until I look out the window. It is as if the window has become yet another barrier, or screen, between myself and the physical world. I yearn for the moments when I would march from class to class on campus, waving to friends as they passed by. That feeling doesn’t translate well to FaceTime or Snapchat, where the limits of a camera and Wi-Fi disrupt the social connection.
I eagerly await the end of the pandemic, hopefully soon enough that I can remind myself of why I attend Northwestern. For off campus students, there is no sense of community without social media. There is no knowledge of what is happening over on campus, no events in downtown Evanston and no camaraderie that we have come to enjoy as students. I cannot possibly be expected to accept that precious time is being replaced with an unending number of hours on TikTok and Twitter, can I?
Every day has become the same, with my computer and phone being among the many constants in my weekly schedule. I miss the randomness of in-person interactions, the possibilities of being whisked off to a random on campus event. Staring at the old pictures and videos on my phone has only reminded me of how much I used to take for granted. I worry that when, or rather if, I have the opportunity to be a regular student again, will I be too reliant on my phone? Will I know how to exist in a crowded room or party atmosphere without the various screens to reassure me? The only way to know would be to experience it again.
Ben Borrok is a School of Communication junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.