You stare at the blank, white page. The cursor blinks. A minute goes by and your screen darkens. The void stares back. Suddenly, your screen is blue and white. Maybe there’s a sans-serif “F” or “T” in the top left corner. You scroll and scroll. Photos and bylines flash by, striped against the white background of your newsfeed. You scroll faster. The friction singes your fingertips. Faster. The world floods back into your carrel, pouring through your computer screen — water everywhere. You snap out of it and return to your essay. You’re still thirsty.
Spending eons staring at blank pages and unwritten essays, it’s easy to feel like life is passing you by. The obvious answer is to open a tab and drink up. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — the suite. There they are: your friends, your family back home, the politicians you performatively liked and like performatively. Sifting through them at lighting speed, it’s blurry. And with it all in front of you, filterable and indexed, you hardly see any of it.
Social media is a noun made up of two words and a case study in semantic saturation — when a word is repeated so many times it loses its meaning. Of the two, media is the one matters. Americans spend, on average, 11 hours a day consuming it. Besides existential anguish over climate destruction, it’s the defining element of our generation. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not some digital regressive. I’m fully aware that the world sucked before social media too. Besides, I love the internet! I really do. But much like the femme fatales of red-pilled fanfiction smeared on forum walls, our loves are killing us.
I’m not going to repeat the same “that dang social media” argument you’ve heard a million times over. I’m not going to argue that social media isn’t connective. It totally is. The problem is what it connects us to.
Among friends who I’ve had this discussion with, the number one reason they still have their Facebook accounts is to keep up with Yale events. The talks, lectures, parties and comedy shows that dot our calendars mostly come to us by way of Facebook. The rest of social media follows. Our social safety nets are just too damn convenient. But it’s more than a binary. To be without them is more than just inconvenient — it’s terrifying.
This consuming anxiety is no coincidence. The world is getting faster, and time is a valuable commodity. In the mid-1700s, a letter could take 14 days to get from New York to Philadelphia. By 1860, aboard the Pony Express, it was 10 days cross-country. By 1870, a telegram got you from the US to India in four minutes. A century later, an email gets you anywhere. Instantly. Around the clock, we communicate with teammates, coworkers and bosses. We’re always clocked in. Nowadays, our responses to emails are written by AI before we even read them. The modern world is faster than instant, and if you’re not paying attention, it’s going to leave you in the dust.
In our pursuits to try and squeeze every last drop out of this spacetime-compressed world, we feel the need to be connected: responsive to texts, emails, panlists, events, trends, movements, opinions and — most importantly — the people around us. In theory, phones are simply liaisons to those on the other end. But, really, if you want to get a meal with someone —- and I mean actually want to — you will. If your friends want you at a party, they’ll tell you. We don’t need these great mediators to connect us to those who matter.
We worry about feeling disconnected, not from specific people but more so from the media itself. The magnitude of sociality made possible by phones allows for the individual relationships that comprise it to congeal into an indistinguishable, anxiety-inducing mass. It is a widespread conflation of means and ends, where that which is supposed to connect us becomes that which we are connected to and ultimately ends up isolating us further.
It’s a privilege to be able to disconnect — one I’ve exercised in the five holier-than-thou days since I’ve deactivated my Facebook account. And, as much as I hate to admit it, it hasn’t been all that easy. In writing this column, I found myself lamenting the fact that I wouldn’t have anywhere to post it. I even toyed with the idea of reactivating my account just to share it and relish in the likes and comments, of course. What’s a piece of writing without a way to quantify how good it is? Sharing articles should just be for them to be read, but it became the objective. It felt empty. This conflation of means and ends is a source of emptiness in all aspects of life. Social media is just a particularly conspicuous one, and it metastasizes to others. Look at Tinder. What, in theory, is just a means of “real dating” becomes an ends to quantifying how wanted you are. Think about the means and ends in your life. If you treat the former as the latter, you’ll find yourself racing to somewhere that doesn’t exist.
As our phones talk and computers feel and the objects around us grow closer to people, it is easy to believe that people can grow closer to being objects, that we can emulate the machines we feel so tethered to. An iPhone can store 50,000 contacts, but that doesn’t mean its user should. When the world floods through your computer screen, your thirst is not quenched — you’re drowning. Water, water, everywhere. Not a drop to drink.
Eric Krebs is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .