I will never forget my first day at Lehigh as a first-year. After moving in all my stuff, meeting my roommate and waving goodbye to two parents with tears in their eyes, it was time to go to my first meeting with my orientation group.
Take a deep breath, I thought. New people. New experiences. Maybe I’ll find my Lehigh friends.
I walked through the door to find most of the seats filled. Weird. I thought I was early. For some reason, my orientation leader must have been running a few minutes late, because she wasn’t there when I arrived.
I found an open seat. My nervous energy subsided for a moment until it hit me. The room was scarily quiet.
Here I am, in a room full of 25 new people who are also new to each other, in a new place in a new city with a new bed. Why is it so quiet? Why is nobody … talking?
Again, I collected myself for another moment to attempt to answer my own question. I looked around to see no faces at all, nobody to even half-smile with.
All I saw were heads angled toward desks, buried. Everyone was on their cell phones.
The guy next to me was mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, and the girl behind me appeared to be sending a Snapchat, perhaps with the caption, “Day 1 at Lehigh!”
Frustrated and shocked about how 25 new students at a prestigious university were choosing to fill their time while waiting for their orientation leader, I was too nervous to distract someone from their phone to introduce myself.
So I looked to my right, then looked to my left. I took my phone out, too, naturally.
Now a sophomore, it still amazes me how much college students rely on their phones. We think that the more we stare and scroll and post and like, the more included we will feel or the happier we will be.
It’s gotten so bad that there is a new diagnosable technology addiction.
Technology has changed human society forever. A good part of this is positive change. We can now interact with a family member halfway around the world, stay in touch with friends and learn about anything we want.
Workflows, both professional and academic, have never been so collaborative. Projects and documents can be shared instantly. Technology has even proven to be sustainable: the EPA estimates that 69 million tons of paper and paperboard are produced nationwide every year, which could be reduced using online documents.
But what about happiness? Technology can connect someone in China to someone in Pennsylvania, but has it helped us connect to the person sitting right next to us at a coffee shop?
Technology lets you flirt with the cute girl from your psychology class behind a screen, but has it helped us break the ice on that first date — when you are looking eye to eye? Technology has given us access to unprecedented amounts of information, thanks to centuries of human innovation and curiosity, but have we applied it?
Perhaps most striking: Our cell phones can now capture photographs like those of a professional photographer. But have we seen more of the world? Have we experienced more?
The jury is still out.
If you’ve ever put your headphones in to tune out a car ride with your family, take them out.
If you’ve ever sat in the back of a large lecture hall, on your phone scrolling through Instagram or on your laptop playing a game, lower your screen.
And if you feel more empowered speaking behind a screen than in person, to another individual one-on-one or in front of a larger group, be brave.
Unpeel your eyes. Take off your sunglasses hiding your face. Remove your headphones.
Don’t take the easy way. Choose the more difficult path, the one that requires the most restraint. That text will be there later. But what you could be missing is so much more valuable.
You will thank yourself for having that deep conversation, for seeing that deer on a country drive while laughing with your family, for hearing your world-renowned professor share his or her findings, and for smelling the smells of a forest fresh from a gentle downpour.
You can have all this and more. Just pick your head up.
Jordan Wolman, ’21, is the deputy news editor for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]