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Credit: Lulu Wang

Undoubtedly, the advent of modern technology has made the possession of a smartphone (whether it be of the Samsung or Apple variety) a fairly common occurrence. One might even deem it a requisite for the ever-moving, fast-paced lifestyle of the student or young professional (along with a proper suit and a cherished pair of Stan Smiths, I might add). Such a tool has severely altered our way of living, either by facilitating the movement of information or by creating a new tool for addiction

What truly bothers me, however, isn’t the typical distaste for social media often found among articles lamenting over the adverse effects of technology. It is the type of attachment that exists toward our phones these days that is slightly troubling. Such an attachment extends beyond the need to use the phone itself and perhaps may stem from something entirely unrelated: its convenience in uncomfortable situations, a barrier of sorts preventing us from having much needed conversations.

Credit: Gillian Diebold

I’ve always felt as though I had never quite developed the bond that it seemed many of my peers had with their own devices. My phone was something that I checked up on once in a while, sure, but never more than a glance at a message or an email for a minute or two. So upon my arrival on campus last year, I was a bit frazzled, to say the least, by the rushes of students on Locust Walk with phone in hand and eye on phone. 

At the time, I felt as though I was I was missing out on a world that I never quite explored. Perhaps this was true, but perhaps I was also missing out on a use for such a tool as well: the facade of occupation. Now, as a sophomore, I, too, have integrated with Penn culture. I slowly began to see that many people on Locust, although validly occupied, were on their phones so as not to have to look up, to not have to see faces above them — a fear of looking up, perhaps. 

I cannot say that this is the case for all, because such a broad statement is unjustifiable. But I can say that I’ve observed it enough to claim it as a common occurrence. All too often have I seen individuals appear to be open, and so quickly close themselves from those surrounding them with the simple glance toward their devices. 

Such a phenomenon isn’t only confined to Locust Walk, however; Locust is simply a conglomeration of such occurrences. On buses, while waiting (for anything), sitting in the dining hall alone, we use our phones as distractions. It seems as though these moments, when we turn away from our peers and from our neighbors, could have potentially been useful moments. 

The moment our phones are held up in our hands and our headphones in, walls are put up and barriers are created. Perhaps, that moment spent in silence in the elevator could have been a chance to share a connection with an unlikely passerby, an opportunity to share a conversation and hear a perspective that we might never hear again. Moments such as these are windows for sharing stories and perspectives that might be lost to our ears otherwise. These gaps in time that are often lost to our phones might be useful spaces to mitigate misunderstandings and tensions that plague our campus, our community, and hopefully, even our world. 

This isn’t to say that all the world’s problems and disagreements would be solved if we put down our phones, but perhaps it is a step in the right direction. 

I recognize that I, too, am guilty of using my own phone as a barrier, simply because it’s easy. It is easy to turn to our phones. But, I write all this to hopefully change a culture and spur conversation in place of silence. These moments of looking down in the dining hall, while waiting on line, standing outside the lecture hall could all be useful spaces. Maybe if we used these spaces, there would be less disagreement and more understanding. If we all looked up for once, maybe we could really see each other, not just as passersby, but as fellow peers. 

CHRISTINE OLAGUN-SAMUEL is a College sophomore from Paramus, N.J. studying health and society. Her email address is colaogun@sas.upenn.edu. "Ebony and Ivy" usually appears every other Monday.

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