When my father travelled the world as a part of the International Honors Program, I can’t imagine he spent as much time perusing twitter or the NY Times or really any site on the laundry list of websites I check daily. I’m sure he didn’t spend nearly as much time keeping in touch with his friends over social networks like Facebook. Hell, he probably didn’t skype his mother as much as I do. But is this is a good thing? A sign of my over-connection to the world I left behind to study in India? Is it an advantage that I don’t have the burden of secluding myself from the world I feel so connected to? Or is it merely a sign of the changing times? These questions face me pretty frequently and I think I’m starting to come to terms with how they affect my time here.
1) I love being connected with the world. The same Internet that allows me to stay connected with my world back home, allowed me to learn vast amounts about India before I ever set foot in this country. I may not necessarily spend all my time messaging friends back home, but retaining some connection to my community back home, from my extracurricular, to the weekly CMC parties, lets me retain some sense of connection, which I would hate to lose. My father says that the sense of connection to the CMC community that he lost when he went aboard was one of his biggest regrets in College. Technology has allowed me to soften this break-up. I also really value being a part of the lives of those I truly love. Being a part of Sam’s life everyday, through Viber, Skype, Facebook, etc. has made me much more comfortable during my time here. Talking to her for example, has been such a huge part of my ability to digest and reflect on my experiences every day. It allows me to share the nuances and hilarities that occur everyday, while getting support and love when I feel lonely, homesick, etc. I still feel like I am part of my family member’s lives- from Clare’s meditation classes, to Dad’s conferences, to my long talks with my Mom. This connection goes both ways- my loved ones know what’s going on in my life but I can also keep track of what’s going on in their lives. Encouraging my sister to meditate, watching Sam’s soccer games… all of these things are enabled by technology. These are all signs of a changing family dynamic, not necessarily a need, but a lingering connection that kids my age have with their families.
2) The principal paradox these issue seems to raise is the conceived balance between staying present and using the internet. I wont lie- the internet has fed my worry about things like internships, future obligations, and the like. These worries take up a huge part of my life back in school and a semester abroad seems designed to give me a reprieve from these thoughts. But is that accurate? What if those things are all parts of who I am? I’m forward looking and driven and I value my ability to feel prepared and ready for the future. Furthermore, wouldn’t I worry about these things anyways? In theory this has the potential of being a major detractor from my time here. In practice however, I trust myself to not let this detract from time otherwise spent experiencing real things, and the peace of mind that shedding some focus on these activities is important. This debate seems to necessitate some type of meter on my smart phone- how present am I and how much am I thinking of the future and all of its needy obligations. I value my ability to think of the future and be prepared, so maybe I’ll aim for 90% present HAH.
3) Access to information- When I talk about technology with my peers they so often deny that technology is important to them. They probably use it to stay in touch with people, but it’s endless wealth of information is seen as a drain- responsible for far too many hours spent surfing the web. I have a different point of view. On a day like today, when I’m stuck at home with no choice of exploring the real world, I love that I have the power to spend the day reading about awesome Social Enterprises, reading reports, and exploring blogs, and other various websites. Sitting in a small house in Jaipur, recovering from Dengue, I have tremendous access to whatever information I want. Although there is clearly a breadth of time-wasting material, there is also an incredibly ability to learn and explore. I don’t think of myself as an internet ‘ethicist’ but I do appreciate the democratization of information that the internet has afforded a student like myself.
4) The internet contains a huge potential to disconnect from the world currently surrounding me and discouraging me from undergoing the experiences that will surely shape my time here. This seems to be the easy answer to the negative side of internet availability. Clearly any person who would say that my father’s circumstances are superior to mine- for whatever reasons: learning, immersion, genuine experience etc.- would allude to this argument. I would be the first to admit that this is true. It’s more than easy for me to lapse into the usual information sifting that reddit, salon, and twitter encourage. But this is ultimately my responsibility and hopefully doesn’t come to define my time here. However, I think there can be a healthy amount of communicating, of information-sifting, without being the down-fall of my time here, or even a detractor.
Ultimately, I really appreciate the benefits that the internet has brought me. I cherish my ability to connect with those I love, to explore and to learn in ways other-wise un-afforded to me, and to stay connected with the world. These views are undoubtedly formed by a millennial, and I’ll let you do your own analysis of that, but I think my preference towards these things is justified and demonstrates the rise of a global, connected type of study-aboard student. Of course there are a million ways for technology to take away from my time here, but thus far it has been a very important way for me to contextualize my time here while finding normalcy and meaning in my connections with the people back home. In addition to the expected adult retort of “stay present,” and “live in the moment,” I would love your feedback and thoughts below!