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Meral Barlas Headshot

Looking Through the Screen

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Back in May of this year, a video on YouTube titled "Look Up" went viral. Almost everyone I know has watched it. If you haven't, I'll fill in the blanks. It was an inspirational poem about taking a break from technology and how you can miss so many great opportunities because you're too busy scrolling through social media.

But out of the 45 million-plus people who watched it, how many people actually did something about it? How many people had the willpower to say, "Wow, my phone and all this technology is really taking lots of meaning out of my life. I'm going to use it less and focus on more important things"? Most people, myself included, thought, "Wow, that was so great and eye-opening. I should tweet about it," and subsequently went back on their phones and carried themselves as they would do any other day. Some may deem it a revolutionary video, but no revolution of any significance actually occurred.

Of course, technology has its obvious pros. Without it, how would this video have spread? How would we get news, information or birthday notifications, without any of the innovations we have today? How would you even be reading this article? We are able to meet new people, connect with old friends, learn things we wouldn't have access to otherwise and so much more. But when a 2-year-old child can use an iPhone or an iPad just as well (or better) than a middle-aged adult, should there be concern?

Kids should be familiar with technology, that is perfectly true. But should they be playing mind-numbing games instead of finding a good place for hide and seek, coloring on iPads instead of coloring books, watching YouTube videos instead of playing outside? Children of this new generation will have no idea what life used to be like without technology. I'm not saying I'm immune to all of this -- I was born in 1997 -- and '90s kids have developed some sort of superiority complex that makes us believe that we're the last generation with common sense, had childhoods filled with quality TV shows that didn't involve dogs blogging and the last ones whose baby pictures weren't taken with smartphones.

In some aspects, I guess our seemingly absurd claim does have some merit. We were raised and taught to socialize, not to stay on our phones all day. But in this day and age, when my friends and I get together, we end up spending as much (maybe more) time on our phones as we do socializing. You get together to share on social media how much of a good time you're having with all your friends, when in reality, everyone is quite bored. The foreign term that is "socializing" has been reduced to people sitting in the same room as their friends, silently, on their phones. As the world goes on and technology keeps advancing, will our ability to interact with other people slowly fade into oblivion?

We are in the "Me" Generation.' All we care about is the amount of followers we have on Instagram or Twitter and how many likes our last selfie got -- we're completely self-absorbed in this superficial digital world. I've even had people message me and start a seemingly normal conversation about school or friends, when their ulterior motive is revealed: "Oh, and by the way, could you pretty please go like my profile picture? I just liked yours. :)" Is this really what our world has come to?

Yes, of course technology is not the number one cause for everything that's wrong with the world. It is not the cause for the uncountable number of people in some parts of the world lacking basic human rights, governments being corrupt, inequality, etc. And sure, technology raises awareness for all these existing problems. But this media that has made us into "social" beings at all times is causing much anxiety and depression. People feel they aren't loved if they don't have enough followers, or their picture only gets 10 likes. You see your friends doing all the things you weren't invited to, you see all the things you could be doing and yet you're sitting on a couch scrolling through your phone for the 15th time in an hour. We see so much more of the real world and so much more fake photo-shopped images, and we combine the two into some Utopian view of what life could be if we tried, yet it's so impossibly perfect that we're never able to reach that point, and it saddens us.

Without technology, I wouldn't even be able to write or post this article; our knowledge would be so limited compared to what it is now. And I know that after reading this you might think about it for a while and then you'll trot back to your daily digital life while I return to mine. And even though I know how it is and I want to "look up" and see the world around me, I end up looking down. This four-inch screen is no replacement for reality, but that is where we find our life. Maybe, we can start by looking up when we want to look down, just once a day; it might not be so bad after all.