Drowning in Distraction

Kira Symington, General Reporter

Like clockwork, I throw my keys on the table, kick off my shoes, and pivot to the fridge. I grab whatever leftovers I have and toss them into the microwave. As the countdown reaches zero, I press play on my current show. Then, sitting down, I pull out my phone and scroll through Instagram as I juggle eating and glancing at the TV screen. Perhaps I should be crowned the queen of multitasking or more likely, I am just another average person stuck in a routine of endless distractions.  

Technology, a hallmark of change, has always been met with resistance. Even the famous Greek philosopher, Socrates, was said to have thought that books would be bad for people, providing only the appearance of wisdom and truth. Books are revered as a primary tool to build your knowledge. It could be argued that it is the same with our phones, TVs, and laptops. Our parents and grandparents complain about them, but that is merely because they are frightened by the rapid progress they bring with them. They shape us into better versions of ourselves, more connected than ever.   

But do they really? Even our entertainment is not enough for us to be immersed in. We pull out our phones when our shows get “boring.” I went for coffee with some friends of mine, and once I got my affogato, my first instinct was to take a picture of it. Tasting it would only mess up the image of the perfectly round scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream covered in a dark espresso. To simply be in the moment, spoon to my lips and laughing with my friends, would make me miss a chance to get half-hearted likes from strangers on the internet.   

Maybe I think I can somehow preserve my physical experiences in the virtual world. Maybe I can scroll through photos of my food and think “man, that must have tasted so good,” when, by the time I got to eating it, the ice cream had melted into a brown slush. Maybe I can imagine away my social anxiety by scrolling through pictures I took with my friends. Maybe, through Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms, I can be the person I always wanted to be by photoshoping my flaws away into the virtual void.   

Yet, I wake up in the real world. As I peer into the mirror, tired eyes, frazzled hair, and pimples showing, no likes or comments float about my reflection. I am alone without distraction as are we all, but this fact of life is unbearable. So, we pick up our phones and scroll.   

Forgive me for being melodramatic, but I really do believe that there are nearly infinite possibilities for good that can arise from our phones, social media, television, etc. You probably type away on a laptop to submit your assignments and timecards and to mail long-distance friends. The GPS takes us to each location precisely, texts take seconds to reach others, and important announcements are imparted with ease. We all know how wonderful and reliant we are on these technologies, so let me talk about the other side of this coin.   

I recently watched “Smithereens,” a Black Mirror episode. In it, an intense hostage situation scene plays out, complete with a police chase and gunshots ringing through the TV’s speakers. All this drama builds up to one phone call to the CEO of the fictional social media company, Smithereen, Billy Bauer. The main character, holding an intern hostage, weeps as he tells the CEO his story over the phone.   

He had been driving his sleeping fiancé home when he got bored. He tells him, “I got bored every ten seconds back then, I think…” The fear of being alone with one’s own thoughts, of being “bored,” is quite a relatable and terrible feeling and something that Twenty-One Pilot’s song “Car Radio” describes quite aptly. Naturally, he turns to check his phone notifications. In that instant, he crashes into another car, and his fiancé dies after two months in the hospital. The blame falls on the deceased driver of the other car.  

Blame is something that rested on his shoulders every moment. “My phone was glued to my hand. I was the whole cliché, you know, [it was the] first thing I saw in the morning, last thing I saw at night,” he said, but the blame game starts from there. It shifts from the dead driver to the distracted driver to finally the CEO of the company that profits off that addiction to the app. “It was your thing, you built it. I heard you make these things that way, addictive. So that you cannot take your eyes off them,” he told the CEO.   

Initially, sites like Facebook, Twitter, and mobile devices like our phones were built to share friendship and knowledge. It was to revolutionize how we connect to others in a positive way. It was the future, but with rampant misinformation, selling every piece of privacy to the highest bidders, and increasing feelings of isolation and insecurity, we wonder where it went wrong. As the fictional CEO Billy Bauer said, “it was not supposed to be like this… I started it, there is nothing I can do to stop it.” Like Victor Frankenstein, with our good intentions, we have created a monster we cannot control.  

The endless desire for the devices or the app’s reproduction everywhere all the time turned to the exploitation of our very brain chemistry. Social media, mobile apps, and other such technologies are built to keep us distracted. Through the dopamine-feedback loop, they keep us coming back for more. Frank Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” paints the picture quite clearly in the credits of the episode as he sings, “you’re just too good to be true – can’t take my eyes off of you”.   

It is easy to imagine ourselves helpless at the whims of some villainous CEO who knows just how to prey on our weaknesses, but that does not change anything, does it? When my seven-year-old sister asks me to play with her, no Instagram representative is forcing me to scroll on my phone instead. When I want to paint, read, play piano, or any other hobby of mine, no one stops me. In the end, I am faced with my own actions and their consequences.  

Am I the person I want to be? Am I experiencing my own life? Or am I just a ghost drifting from picture to picture, like to like, caption to caption?  

Dear readers, I wish I had an answer to this problem. Some formula to make it easier to have a healthy relationship with the technology we use or something to show us what that would even look like. But I do not.   

That does not mean we should give up, surrender to the scroll, or defer to the distractions. Instead, take a break. Take a longer time eating. Allow yourself to be bored. I hope that I can soon write that my average day is something along the lines of this:  

Impulsively, I move. I throw my keys on the table, kick off my shoes, and pivot to the fridge. Grabbing a variety of ingredients, I toss them into the frying pan. As the food cooks, the whistle of my tea pot goes off. Once it is all prepared, I sit at the white table by the window. The sunlight rests on my forearms as I raise the fork to my mouth. I think “too much pepper.” I sit for a while after I am done eating looking out the window. I feel full as my mind wanders.   

Kira Symington is a Dakota Student General Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected].