Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Smart phones, Louis C.K. and the growing inability to be alone




When students become disconnected from TrinAir, we begin to squirm. The inability to access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Netflix sends a jolt of discomfort down our spines.

In that moment of information suspension, we feel alone and we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Maybe we reach for our phone to contact someone for relatively petty relief. Or maybe we incessantly tear through our Network Preferences and attempt to reconnect to the server over and over. Because we have the access, we feel the need to exercise that access, even if it means watching cat videos or clips of people making fools of themselves on YouTube.

Even when we are just sitting in a common room with some of our closest friends, we feel compelled to open our web browsers to look up videos, articles and GIFs to share with the people right in front of us. While I think that sharing compelling information and funny clips is an enjoyable and effective way to communicate, it makes me wonder about my capacity to be interesting without the aid of an intermediary.

In these moments, we are consumers, not creators. But we are comfortable and, more importantly, we do not feel alone.

Comedian Louis C.K. is known for his sarcastic, self-deprecating and painfully honest demeanor. He is well renowned for his ability to find significance in typically universal observations, and in turn, make audiences reflect on uncomfortable situations we frequently find ourselves in. Last week, C.K. made a guest appearance on The Conan O’Brien Show and talked about young people’s inability to embrace solitude. “You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person… That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone,” C.K. said.

While his observation is nihilistic and bleak, it’s not unfounded. It has become increasingly difficult to reflect on choices we make or what we value because we just don’t have to. If we feel sad, maybe we decide that an episode of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones will help us escape. If we feel lonely, we can type a message to our friends from home on a cell phone or in a Facebook chat box. This scares Louis C.K.

According to the comedian, “(The fear of being alone) is why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.”

Louis C.K.’s sarcasm is palpable but he’s not just looking for laughs. Next time you’re stuck at a traffic light or strolling along the Long Walk, instead of looking down at your phone, look at the people surrounding you. Many of them will be in their own technological bubble. This self-induced isolation from those directly in front of us is the most ironic part of Louis C.K.’s observations. We are terribly uncomfortable when not in contact people through technological means but are too comfortable with ignoring our peers. In this sense, we are adept at being alone because we prefer hand picking the people we talk to, which, at times, cripples our ability to connect with new people around us.

C.K. expressed his concern for his own kids and younger generations who don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a world without smart phones. “I think these things are toxic, especially for kids…they don’t look at people when they talk to them and they don’t build empathy.” But our generation is in a unique place compared to those slightly older and slightly younger than us. We do remember what it was like to call our friends on a landline instead of texting them on our cell phones. Yet we have decided to bury those memories underneath a layer of computers that can speak for us.

Recently, I was giving my friend trouble for being consumed in his new Samsung Galaxy tablet, prodding him with comments like, “are we not interesting enough?” He replied, “Just think of my tablet as the pathway to enlightenment.” While this particular manner of response from this particular friend wasn’t unfamiliar, it did make me think about the difficultly of balancing what we value.

We are endowed with the responsibility to be smarter because we are lucky enough to access any information we desire to obtain. Simultaneously, we frequently convince ourselves that the best way to share this newfound information is to post it to Facebook or Twitter instead of talking about it with the people breathing the same air we are. Louis C.K. is on to something, but our generation is filled with plenty of comfortable loners. We’re just hiding behind illuminated screens.

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