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Cardinal Sins: A Step Back

Thirty years ago, no one could avoid awkward situations by staring at a cell phone. Couldn’t call someone to bail out of a party for another. Couldn’t log on to the Internet and do a quick Wikipedia search to finish an assignment on Nietzsche before class. Couldn’t procrastinate in the library with Facebook and iTunes. Couldn’t peruse news and social media websites while bored in a dorm. There was nothing to distract you on a long bus ride or keep you occupied during a walk.

Technology has changed the game. We’re constantly connected, whether to our friends, the Internet or our phones.

A few decades ago, it would have been truly impossible to avoid time alone.  However, now that we have the tools we do, we have both the ability and inclination never to go without some crutch. So we have slowly made ourselves incapable of being alone without feeling somehow strange. Nowadays, many of us, myself included, feel downright uncomfortable during periods of solitary disconnection.

As technology has slowly moved into the social sphere, becoming ubiquitous in modern life, it’s hard to find a place it hasn’t reached. The time alone and unstimulated that was once unavoidable is now becoming something to look for. It’s rare to be separated from cell phones, TVs, social networks and friends. That’s forced a fundamental change: We spend less time with ourselves and, therefore, know ourselves less.

This is bad. Those moments in which we are alone with only our thoughts are some of the most powerful and some of the most productive in terms of self-discovery. Self-knowledge and self-awareness are vital to a satisfying life, I believe, and they can’t be cultivated in an environment in which we are in constant contact with other stimuli.

I think, also, that having as many crutches as we do, we end up less happy with ourselves. We are not forced to face our own limitations and problems. We can use tools such as Facebook and text messaging to help us alleviate and distract us from our insecurities and doubts, never truly confronting them. In many ways, technology acts as an advanced form of repression; something any psych major will tell you is no good.

Essentially, we have made it possible not to know ourselves, and, by doing so, to nurse tremendous insecurity. By avoiding reflection and relying on social media to help us and distract us in times of difficulty, we never answer the questions that trouble us or learn mechanisms to cope with them.

In essence, technology is drugging us. It has given us a method, much like a drug, to completely avoid confronting our own shortcomings. Relatively mindless media have encroached on every aspect of life, to the point where solitary pursuits are being excluded from the normal course of a day. This is purging reflection from popular society.

It’s important for human beings to know themselves. In order to find meaning and satisfaction in life, we need to spend time reflecting on what we want and who we are. Being surrounded by friends and having support systems and some mindless entertainment are of course important. But without the meaning supplied by reflective thought, they make for an empty life.

We Stanford students are known for our drive, our accomplishments and our ability to stay active and dedicated. However, we need to match our external efforts at improvement with internal ones. We have to ask ourselves why we do what we do, to question our own motivations and impulses. Only then can we reach a stable and happy understanding, and somehow insulate ourselves from the changes of the outside world.

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