As the academic year approaches its end, final papers, projects and presentations are beginning to appear on our seemingly endless to-do lists. Of course, this isn’t something specifically unique to this year; the weight of our assignments always seems the heaviest at the end of the semester.
Personally, my daily planner has not seen an empty date in a long time. Each day is filled with countless events and requirements that consume many of my waking hours. Most days, I find myself slipping my meals and conversations in stolen moments between class lectures, assignments and Zoom meetings. My life doesn’t feel like my own anymore. I’ve simply become a character repeating a monotonous routine in a programmed world.
This lack of autonomy in personal time and communication can be greatly attributed to the countless hours spent behind my laptop screen. In recent weeks, I have felt that my life has become consumed by a virtual prison world, my only escape being the momentary breaks in which I dare to walk away from my desk. Through the confines of my keyboard, it’s simply too difficult to express how emotionally draining it is to sit behind a screen all day.
In the simplest terms, these feelings of isolation stem from our past year in socially distanced classrooms and virtual Zoom lectures. Our daily conversations have become monitored by the constraints of technology and dependent on the battery life of our computers. We are able to learn and communicate freely from one another, albeit projected through blue-light monitors.
As a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this transition from a physical to a virtual world was necessary to offer protection to collegiate communities. In fact, many universities around the world were forced to adapt their classroom settings to synchronous virtual methods this past year. However, in this attempt to create an authentic collegiate experience for students, the formality of these safety precautions has removed many senses of normalcy. Our face-to-face conversations have been replaced by screens and our seats in class have remained our desk chairs.
One recent study from Utah State University shows that about 77% of college-aged students wish they could reduce their current screen time from the average 50+ hours that were recorded during the fall of 2020. However, over 50% of the study still reported that they have not made any initiatives to reduce their current screen time usage.
From the perspective of a full-time undergraduate student, I believe this delay is not due to a lack of effort, but a lack of motivation. The social standards of today’s technological world have illustrated our screens as an extension of self. Without our phones, computers, televisions and devices, we begin to feel disconnected from others.
This depiction, however, has created a contradicting divide between what is reality and what is not. Maybe it’s due to a natural sense of human curiosity. Maybe it’s due to societal conditioning. No matter what the answer may be, it’s physically draining.
I believe it is important to recognize that it is entirely acceptable to take breaks from the daily routines that we have become accustomed to. With this perspective, maybe we will be able to escape the virtual worlds that we have been thrown into and re-explore our real one. The lens of social media in today’s society has filtered our real-life experiences in ways that only further contribute to the learned sequence of habits within our daily routines.
The wellness day that Northern Michigan implemented on Wednesday, March 31 serves as a great example of this idea. After a request by ASNMU, President Fritz Erikson agreed to offer a day off of classes and requirements, and encouraged students to take the time to destress and relax in any way they believed would be most fitting. No matter what students decided to do with their wellness day—and whether or not they found the time to be effective—it was an offer to escape the confines of our screens, if only for a moment.
Although I will argue against the effectiveness of this single wellness day, the time away from my classes made me realize that my life and habits are entirely dependent on one thing: my willpower. We may not have control over our learning methods, but we do hold the power to determine how we spend the rest of our time. Our habits have created a façade of reality, making us see our screens as the only way to view our world.
This past year, I have felt that we have lost so much as a society and fallen victim to the shackles of technology. Now, I realize that I couldn’t have been any more wrong. Our world from before is still here, albeit altered by time. It is not lost at all; we only have to look up to see it. All this time, our lives have been just beyond our screens.
Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This piece is a guest column, written by a Northern Michigan University student, faculty member, or community member. It expresses the personal opinions of the individual writer, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the North Wind. The North Wind reserves the right to avoid publishing columns that do not meet the North Wind’s publication standards. To submit a guest column contact the opinion editor at [email protected] with the subject North Wind Guest Column.