Photo by Andrew Le on Unsplash

Speaking Out: The high cost of plugging in

By  anastasia corkery, Youth Speak News
  • March 9, 2022

I once sat in a room at a table with a small group of people doing homework. Except for myself, each person wore earbuds listening to music. I caught snippets of various styles: chords of some rock punk and the melody of a heartfelt ballad … my mind mused what it might be like as I imagined all of the music playing simultaneously without the earbuds. I pondered that everyone would likely be irritated and annoyed as they worked to turn down the music, perhaps allowing one reigning speaker to continue playing. 

It is curious to wonder how much the invention of earbuds and mobile telephones has impacted our social and work interactions. Granted, even before these inventions, many people sought privacy and time alone to accomplish their work. But it made me wonder if these inventions, or how we use them, have changed how we respond to others. Have they made us more isolated or irritable when something interrupts us? Or perhaps, even hostile to the possibility of working with others — even if in unifying silence? 

Earbuds and personal devices have become such staples in our everyday lives. You once might have gone into the kitchen and struck up a conversation with whoever you encounter. Now you might be just as likely to sit in silence as a housemate or family member drifts in distractedly, completing their task while listening to the background noise of a movie, podcast, YouTube video or song. These days it is so easy to have constant stimuli feeding into our hungry minds. It is hard to sit in silence.

I once attempted to sit in 10 minutes of silence at the request of a teacher for the sake of a “spiritual reflection,” and was shocked at how challenging it was. After two minutes, I found myself glancing at my phone to see how much time had elapsed. 

It seems we are always “on,” even if passively so, absorbing the stimuli from our devices. It has not only made it difficult to be silent but also to appreciate silence. I think of the times I have been without my phone during a period of short waiting compared to times with it in my hands.

For example, when I have been in a doctor’s office, I usually will turn to my phone, scrolling through news feeds, gossip articles or other, generally mindless, information sources.

However, thinking of a time when my phone was dead, I remember looking around the room. I surveyed the people waiting with me. An elderly lady with an apparent knee problem, a nervous parent trying to keep his child entertained (with an iPad as it happened). I even looked at the check-in desk and the pamphlets there advertising against smoking, offering reminders for cancer screenings and suggestions for expectant mothers. I looked at the walls seeing the personal achievements of the doctor and an art collection which reflected his passion for hockey. I was even able to exchange smiles with a nurse as she walked by. 

A little thing like an exchange of smiles, a “hello” in a hallway, or impromptu conversation in the kitchen — things which seem so little, but often leave us feeling brighter; these are things I wonder if we are slowly losing. These are natural to human nature, so I do not think we will ever lose them completely. However, have they diminished as we become more absorbed with the constant stream of stimuli from personal devices?

My point is not to attack phones or earbuds, or even the entertainment we access through them. It is only valuable to reflect on what we are perhaps losing in this exchange. Maybe it is a smile, maybe a hello or maybe a conversation. Perhaps it might be something even simpler: appreciation for the world around us — even if that is only an old photograph (in a doctor’s office) of two smiling hockey players as the puck drops between them.

(Corkery, 20, is in her third year at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ont.)

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