NORMAN — There is a community of 30,000 students on my campus, yet it feels like we are on our own isolated islands, specialized to our uniqueness. At the University of Oklahoma, students pass one another on the South Oval like ships in the night, each on a set course.
We’ve mastered walking with our heads down, staring at our phones, ear buds in place, while avoiding each other in perfectly orchestrated steps. We do not hear the birds singing or the buses chugging along to pick up their next load of students. Instead, we hear our favorite songs or funny podcasts.
Students obsessively check their text messages and email, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Always connected, never engaged in any authentic interpersonal relationships. People become numbers that continually increase your “friends.” It does not matter if you’ve never heard of your “friend” that has requested to be added to your list. Simply add them.
Students arrive at class and immediately set up their laptops so they can sign into Facebook and see what their friends are doing. What they find is that their friends are also on Facebook just wondering what they’re doing. So everyone is living — or not living — online in a world perfectly framed in Instagram. Everyone’s world comes with fancy photo filters: sepia, black and white, warm, cool and vintage.
We are not enjoying our best friend’s birthday dinner because we’re busy trying to capture a photo to post to Twitter that will show everyone how we’re living it up. Look at my delicious dinner entrée, envy my summer vacation to Paris, look how beautiful all my girlfriends are. Oh, and yes, that is my gorgeous boyfriend.
Isn’t college where you meet the sweetheart that you will marry? Isn’t it where you will meet that friend who will throw you a baby shower when you’re pregnant with your first child?
While social media has allowed us to connect virtually in a much easier way than our parents could ever have imagined, we’re losing the intimacy that comes with sitting down, face to face, for coffee when we’re going through a break-up. A computer cannot provide the knowing look that eyes can communicate in a glance.
Dating, and ultimately marriage, has become a function of the Internet. Lifetime decisions are made based on carefully constructed profiles that highlight or distort the best in us and hide everything that will take effort to love. Another Internet date gone bad, and we must question how a person who is plugged in day and night can know how to navigate a meaningful conversation with another person.
The Internet doesn’t prepare students for the work and compromise that will be necessary for any serious relationship. In the day of “unfriending” someone with a click, closing an IM window when the conversation goes stale and learning everything about a person before ever meeting them, I wonder about the future of students. How will they stand out in a job interview if they are unable to communicate face to face?
It is time for us to unplug, step away and remember what it sounds like to walk across campus. It is time to learn the art of communication — real communication. Ask your parents out to lunch and find out how they met, how they make it work together or how it all fell apart. Set your camera down and enjoy that birthday with friends, that day at the beach or that concert downtown.
Be still. Be present. Challenge yourself to unplug for a week and use that time to begin a real friendship with a real person in the real world.
Enjoli Di Patri is a senior majoring in journalism at the University of Oklahoma.