Silence descends heavily in the tiny room. There is no conversation and no laughing. Just screens obscuring the gazes of people who could become your friends. If only they would face one another instead of a mechanical device.
Technological expansion has become a part of our daily lives and unfortunately for some, an addiction. There are numerous ways that we benefit from these developments as they are designed to make our lives simpler and save us time. Whether it is heating up your food quickly in the microwave or typing out a document on your iPad – it is undoubtable that technology is advantageous. Tessa Ware, a second year reasoned that “The ability it affords us to express things connected with global events and see what others think about them – like the debate over the “Bring back our girls” campaign, to mention one issue – is, I believe a positive thing.” However, it is wise to acknowledge the many negative effects that result from its use, especially toward the student population. Now they are confronted with issues they would not necessarily have to face if they did not have cellphones, laptops and various other gadgets.
Social networking has become the latest gig that everyone seems to be attending. As students, most of us have a limited budget which means that it is costly to contact people if we are away from home. Thus phone-calls have been replaced with WhatsApps and visiting with skyping. As fourth-year Felisha Solomon aptly said, “It is similar to that of a catch 22, you socialize less with the people around you because you’re preoccupied with the technology that allows you to socialize with people that are not around you.” Awareness does not seem to be the problem when it comes to the knowing about the adverse effects of technology. Instead people are so used to the convenience it brings that they don’t want to relinquish that effortless lifestyle, regardless of the detriments it may have on their psychological health.
Cyber bullying is a good example of this. This practice is the use of technology (usually over the internet) to harm, intimidate and control others. Bullying itself is a detestable crime, but abusing the platform that the online world provides us with, is even worse. The PEW Internet Research Centre found that 90% of social media-using say they have ignored mean behaviour on social media forums. The result of this is exceedingly bad for the self esteem of young people everywhere, especially because they are the ones who mostly perpetuate this matter. According to Webmd.com victims of cyber bullying had newfound emotional, concentration, and behavioural issues, as well as trouble interacting with their peers.
It has become the norm to see people around campus with earphones in their ears, blocking out everyone else and walking obliviously past people. So many opportunities to meet new people are lost. A recent video by Gary Turk depicting the unfavourable consequences of the constant use of social networking and technology received a lot of attention. He referred to our generation saying that “When you’re too busy looking down, you don’t see the chances you miss.” Saajida Francis, a third-year student from Rhodes University also stated that, “We’re so immersed with online profiles that we have retracted from our true selves and fail to forge meaningful relations”.
Students are forced to spend time with each other every day, whether in lectures, tutorials or even in the dining hall. There is no way to avoid contact – so why do people sometimes choose to ignore those around them unless absolutely necessary? Why do lecture rooms stand silent until the rest of your friends arrive? Why not bridge the gap by starting to talk to someone sitting a few seats away? You never know what you might have in common. But instead people sit, silently chatting with people through the medium of characters typed on a screen – indicating our emotions with tiny little faces instead of showing them in person. Is that an adequate representation of how you really feel? Or did you just put that smiley emoticon because you knew it would incur an appropriate response from your friend?
It is for reasons like these that Samantha Munro, a Masters student in Fine Art recently chose to do her exhibition on the interactions between people. The audience was forced to participate and become “immersed in the entire event, like a game,” she said. Students were voluntarily used as props to portray a queue of people waiting at a bus or train station. They wore stockings over their faces which blurred the details of their faces making them seem almost wax-like and inanimate. None of them were allowed to look at each other or make eye contact with the audience.
Sometimes people around us seem to appear just like that – no smiles grace their faces and no greeting slip from their tongues. You have to wonder – is there actually any air passing through their lungs? Or have we have we become robots ruled by that authoritative power called technology?