Coming from a household that limited online media intake, strongly discouraged social networking in general and most certainly did not allow phones at meals, Andover’s technological dependence was a shock to me. It was a difficult adjustment — it was hard to make close friends, when all my peers seemed to do was check their smartphones instead of acknowledging each other’s company. It is so common to see people absorbed in their phones as they pass from class to class that hardly anyone says “Hi” on the paths. The dependence students had — and still have — on social networking is astounding.
But in spite of my feelings regarding this phenomenon, I found myself assimilating. When I couldn’t make conversation (in part because everyone else’s obsession with their own phones), I joined my peers in apathetically scrolling through Facebook and Instagram feeds. Boredom led to endless hours mindlessly checking posts and tweets, which greatly hindered my productivity. I felt further and further away from my friends, in spite of our constant online interaction.
The more time I spent scrutinizing the lives of others online, the more depressed I felt about my own, my mind flooding with images of others “having more fun” than I, looking “better” than I and having more friends than I could ever hope to have. By constantly fixating on the way people represented their lives on social media, I was creating more and more dissatisfaction with my own life.
Being aware of my behavior has helped to keep in check to some extent, but it is impossible for any one individual to break out of our tech-reliant culture unless our entire community commits to the same goal—which is where the baskets come in. On Tuesday, January 13, Student Body Co-Presidents Rebecca Somer and David Gutierrez announced the addition of “phone baskets” to Paresky Commons, meant to promote technology-free meals. This initiative filled me with a sense of hope and anticipation for the many benefits it could bring to our community.
Though some have mocked them, many students have already taken advantage of the baskets, my friend group included. Already, many have found the baskets to have wholly transformed their mealtime experience. It was initially difficult to overcome awkward silences without our phones as a safety net, but there have also been significant gains — without phones at the table, it is simply easier to connect with others on a much deeper level.
Although putting your phone in a basket during mealtimes may seem trivial, insignificant and even a little foolish, doing so is a step towards creating a community less dominated by technology.
And there are many steps we, as individuals, can take to continue this positive progression.
Join Head of School John Palfrey when he offers a technology-free afternoon walking downtown. Set specific times during the day to check your social networking sites, and limit yourself. Spend more time talking to friends, and enjoy the moment rather than documenting it for Snapchat or later uploads to Facebook. Log out of social networking apps on your phone so you are not constantly bombarded with unnecessary comparisons. Perhaps, even, organize small group study sessions in which everyone puts away their phones and works for an hour or two.
As an institution, Andover can not only keep us informed — by hosting speakers and forums — about the world’s increasing knowledge of psychology as it pertains to technology, but can also organize device-free events and spaces, and work to create a culture that is less dependent on technology.
Sewon Park is a two-year Lower from Hong Kong.