Viewpoint: Social media runs our lives

By Henry Eckels

In this day and age, it would be impossible to stay connected with your friends, family and the Baylor community without the use of modern technology. We students rely on our smartphones, our friends’ Facebook posts and those “On the Baylor Horizon” emails (well, maybe not those) to keep in touch with student life.

We maintain and cultivate relationships with our peers through these digital mediums on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Checking your email, cell phone and social media platforms regularly is no longer an optional task, but rather a critical one.

To put it bluntly, our generation is dependent on social media. We are collectively spellbound by one electrical screen or another, living day to day waiting for text messages and emails or giggling at the absurdity of the latest Vine.

By now approximately half of you have stopped reading and the rest of you are cringing through what seem like the ruminations of the stereotypical old man, confused by modern technology and always talking about “the good old days.” Maybe seven people on campus are nodding their heads in agreement. Regardless of what degree of hostility you have adopted toward my opinion thus far, hear me out.

I’m not saying we should institute a campus ban on smartphones, nor would I enjoy Air Bear’s firewall blocking access to Facebook, Twitter or any of the other social media websites. These innovations are crucial for easily communicating with family and friends or expressing one’s attitudes, beliefs and opinions to a widespread audience. My concern is that our generation is beginning to forgo face-to-face interaction in favor of screen-to-screen interaction.

There are a variety of experiments you could conduct to prove this. Next time you eat lunch with a friend, take note of how frequently he or she looks at his or her phone while you are speaking. While walking between classes, observe the students around you and try to count how many of them are looking down at a phone rather than paying attention to where they’re going. Or better yet, estimate how many times you checked your phone while reading this column.

On the one hand, there is a reliance on social media because Baylor students lead busy lives. Between coordinating practices between teammates for intramural sports, organizing fraternity or sorority events, ranting on Facebook about how you think the BCS has a major SEC bias, asking your dad to put money on your debit card and everything else on students’ to-do lists, the only way to do any/all of this is through the constant use of social media.

Carl Flynn, Baylor’s director of marketing and communications for information technology and university libraries, said students should take advantage of evolving systems of communication.

“I think social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook are highly participatory and highly engaging forms of communication,” Flynn said. “You can instant message or contact any number of friends at the same time, and I think the ability to do that makes life easier.”

On the other hand, I think a constant use of social media can jeopardize the genuineness and strength of the relationships we form during our college years. Last year, one of my friends hosted a get-together at his house, and he required everyone to deposit their cell phones in a bucket in order to stay. My friend then hid the bucket so that nobody would be distracted from each other’s company. Everybody had a great time interacting face-to-face with one another because there was no electronic screen to distract them. The feeling of fellowship and community we shared that day was meaningful because we only had each other to focus on.

Although the best aspect about social media technology is that it is convenient, its worst aspect that it is too convenient. Therein lies the paradox. We as a student body are too willing to exchange the courtesy of direct, face-to-face interaction for the convenience of indirect communication through digital platforms.

I recognize the futility in trying to reverse habits that have become so deeply entrenched in college culture. As we continue to be the gears that keep the clockwork of Baylor life moving, the biggest question we should ask ourselves is what sort of culture are we creating for future students. Will the Baylor students of tomorrow use social media to enhance or devalue their relationships with fellow students and their role in the Baylor community?

Only time will tell.

Henry Eckels is a junior journalism major from Fort Worth. He is a reporter for The Lariat.