Widgets Magazine


Screen Time

Imagine a face-to-face conversation. This conversation is special. Not only does it take place in real time, with real people; it takes place without the interruption of vibrating phones, dinging text messages, or open laptop screens.

I’m a big fan of texting; I don’t like the sound of my voice on the phone. I’m not too big a fan of texting-while-chatting, though. Or the feeling of ball and chain that tethers me to my phone. I’m not receiving messages at all hours of the day, but I carry my phone to the dining hall, the library, my classes, as though I were a very important person with very important messages to attend to at all times.

I’m a fan of email as well. On email I rattle off incomplete sentences and incomplete thoughts without an ounce of self-chastisement. But I spew incomplete sentences too often, vigilantly attending my laptop in hopes of receiving incomplete replies. I no longer look at the keyboard to type my SUNet ID and password. My fingers perform the sequence by rote, in a trance. I check my email after I wake up, during lunch breaks, before bed. It’s an illness, I’m certain.

The typical evening conversation in my Suite starts with one of the four members of our clan diving for the couch. Someone wanders from her room and claims the armchair. How was your day? Shitty day. I slept through my first class and was late all day. Ugh that sucks. The other two players wander out, occupying the remaining real estate. News exchanged, comfort offered, nails painted. I should probably start my homework. The first laptop screen opens.

It is then that I notice four laptops and four cell phones privy to the conversation unwinding. The three remaining screens unfold, and cast all four faces in their characteristic blue light. I scour the past ten minutes for clues, but can’t recall bringing my laptop and phone to the table. Yet here I am, writing this from the couch of my Suite’s common room, simultaneously reaching for my phone and lending only one ear to three of the women about whom I care most. They deserve both ears and both eyes.

I get the creepy feeling that the laptops are jaws waiting to clamp down on our heads. And the phones, jealous sprites trying to steal our attention from one another. Okay, maybe an overactive imagination. But the issue remains. Not the issue of too much technology, but the issue of a generation of multi-taskers. A generation who can write code while offering relationship advice, but who feels naked when required to perform one task at once. A task like conversation. Or listening. Trust me, I hold myself accountable.

The plague infects more than living room chat. Remember the last time you went to a party without your phone? Me neither. Because naturally, when you attend an event where you intend to meet people, you would want to check out and check text messages. Check in. Look me in the eye and talk to me. Close the screen, pocket the phone, cut the tether and ask a question. How was your day? Shitty day. I slept through my first class and was late all day. Ugh that sucks – tell me what else happened.

You’ve got Renée’s full attention.  Email her at rdonovan@stanford.edu.

About Renee Donovan

Renee was born and raised in San Francisco and has a serious love affair with the city. Last year she took a leave of absence to pursue a career in ballet and modern dance at Tisch School of the Arts in New York. She is glad to be back at Stanford, and especially glad to be back in California. She is an avid backpacker, Faulkner enthusiast, fair-to-middling guitarist, and wholehearted aviation nerd. She hopes to bring an amusing and provocative voice to the Daily in her opinion column, and urges the Stanford community to offer her their suggestions, questions, and criticism to keep the dialogue going on campus.