Call me out of touch if you want, but Facebook.com serves no purpose to me. It’s encouraging to see students stand behind something they believe in, but the whole ruckus over the Facebook News Feed shows that while student activism is not totally dead, the focus may be a bit misguided.
Technological progress has transformed the typical college campus. Wireless Internet, podcasts and cell phones have changed the classroom from the days of mere lecterns and desks into an annoying audiological ringtone experiment.
But at what cost has this progress come? Social networking may now occur on Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace.com, but the lost face-to-face interaction is irreplaceable.
Diversity on campus is more than just the song list on your iPod. Diversity is knowing how others feel about important issues facing the campus, the town and even the world. It is difficult to do that with earphones in your ears or a cell phone attached to your face.
If you just take a day to consciously observe the people around you, you’ll see my point. For instance, ride the Bull Runner and see how many students are absorbed in their iPods or furiously text messaging their friends – it makes you wonder if they even know other people exist in this technology driven world.
Empirical studies support the rise in student use of technology. The Experience Inc. 2006 Media Perception Survey indicated that 43 percent of students spend 10 hours or more a week on the Internet. Surely not all this time is spent studying when the most visited Web sites were Google, MySpace and Yahoo.
So why do so many students waste so much time online? It could be that the Internet – and other forms of technology – simply allows students to procrastinate. After all, how many plan to search for one item on the Internet and then realize they’ve been online for three hours?
My theory is that the Internet allows people to be someone they aren’t. It allows them to exist in a fictitious realm where every guy is tall and muscular and every girl is stunning. Everyone can be smart and successful online, whereas in real life this isn’t necessarily true.
But that doesn’t mean all Internet usage is worthless.
Increasingly, campus library systems are accessible from home, allowing students to read a vast amount of material, including journal articles, without leaving the house. Likewise, the Internet can provide information on current events even if it does require a discerning eye to determine fact from media hype.
There are numerous consequences to people’s reliance on the Internet and other forms of media beyond their lack of interaction. Obesity, posture problems and hearing issues are some of the consequences that can arise due to repeated use of these items. These chronic problems may not surface until well into the future, but oftentimes these ailments will be difficult to reverse.
Perhaps more influential, technology is creating a divide within communities. Less is known about neighbors and the common problems they face because individuals are too busy trying to download the latest hit or catch the newest reality show on their flat-screen plasma television. Collaboration yields benefits beyond what an individual can create – but not if individuals shut themselves out.
Just think the influence 700,000 students could have around campuses today if they stood in solidarity with underpaid University employees, human rights organizations or other causes rather than joining a group to dispute a Facebook policy. Not only would worthy causes receive more attention, but students would be able to truly network on a myriad of levels.
So the next time you are suffering from iTunes withdrawal or hurrying from class so you can chat online, stop to ask yourself what you are truly gaining from these pursuits. College life is too short to spend so much time majoring in instant messaging, but for some students that is the only area of concentration in which they excel.
Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in Economics.