Every day, we travel to another world where we can do anything and be anything we want to be. We are scientists researching cures to deadly diseases. We are pilots, flying high-speed planes to tropical destinations. We are authors or artists, receiving praise for our masterpieces. If I told you that this alternate universe existed within your reach, would you believe me? With the help of the services and apps that our phones, laptops, or tablets grant us nowadays, we can do anything and be anything we want to be. But are we losing something in the process?

Today, we participate in what researcher danah boyd considers an “Always-On Lifestyle.” This means that as a result of advanced technology, we are always connected to the online world no matter where we are. We are constantly multitasking: live-tweeting episodes of our favorite Netflix shows while refreshing emails and texting people on our glossy smartphones. I’m not immune to this phenomenon. Most of the time, I find myself starting off my day, not with The New York Times and a cup of coffee but with a Facebook newsfeed and unfocused eyes that jump from picture to picture, Buzzfeed video to Buzzfeed video without stopping. For a while, I told myself that my daily routine was keeping my brain active with all the content I saw. But I was wrong.

In my Media and Culture class, we watched a documentary (FRONTLINE’s Digital Nation) that talked about how technology can really impact young kids into their college years, sometimes in negative ways. I was frightened by studies in the documentary that showed an increased reliance on technology may be “dumbing us down,” and lowering our attention spans. This documentary made me realize that sometimes in the digital world, our thinking is contorted. We start to consider those 500 Twitter followers that occasionally click “like” on our posts as the real friends who will always be there for us. We start to post those classic Instagram pictures of sunsets instead of actually sitting outside and enjoying its beautiful rays. Rather than reading, we opt for SparkNotes, we “Kik” others out of our lives, and we stop living life to the fullest.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that technology is ruining the world or that everyone should participate in a social media cleanse. I assure you, I’m a Communications major, so I’m always thinking about the effects of media. I personally believe that technology provides everyone with endless outlets for creativity, helps raise awareness of and enact change to solve important societal problems, and it can connect people in ways we’ve never imagined.

But what I want you to keep in mind is that maybe the best way of connecting with that real world is disconnecting from all of those digital distractions from time to time. And to really begin to appreciate that real world around us, all we need to do is go outside again, sit back, and enjoy that beautiful sunset like we used to.

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Ashley Dayne Bostwick