The Deadly Duo: Social Media and Online Classes

It’s no secret that the unexpected switch to online learning has thrown a curve ball into the lives of students across the world. To some, more disciplined students, this may have been an easy adjustment that was actually a bit more comfortable. Some may enjoy sitting in their pajamas, playing Netflix in the background and lounging on their couch while getting to work on their laptop. But others, myself included, have had a much different experience.

There are a couple topics I’d like to talk about in this post, one of them being the differences in productivity due to the transition to online classes, and the second being why the transition has been so difficult, and essentially a total bust of a semester for some, (me in particular). As a student that is easily distracted, learning at Geneseo in the 2019-2020 academic year was already a challenge. Milne closed, forcing me to rely on a little desk in the corner of my apartment facing a blank wall to get my work done. Luckily, having the responsibility of showing up to class every day gave me the push to continue pressing on with my school work from day to day. I was very successful in the fall semester, as well as the beginning of the spring.

Then came the pandemic. What started as just talk, soon turned into harsh reality. One day I was in class with my peers, and the next I was being told I had to move out completely and leave the town of Geneseo. I had so many questions: How will classes continue? I’m an education major; what about my practicum hours that take place in schools? Why do I have to leave all my friends? Eventually, my questions were answered. But in the meantime, my ability to focus went from a 7/10 to about a 3. My mind was everywhere BUT school. Family members and people everywhere were losing jobs, we were worried about leaving the house just to get food to eat. I was unproductive for the first 2 weeks at least. Not having the pressure of simply showing up to class made it extremely difficult to stay motivated and disciplined with school work.

Now to the main source of distraction: social media. It’s been a problem for years now. Social media has been an issue for a variety of reasons since it first began to grow. There are so many different platforms now; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the biggest recently is TikTok. Hours can pass in what feels like seconds scrolling through these sites. I will start an assignment, take a break to eat lunch and check Instagram, and within minutes I’m consumed into this little digital world that wraps you in. What I find to be most interesting though, is the way social media has connected with my experience of online learning. I could go on and on about the issues of SM, but the biggest problem that everyone can agree on is that people get a little too comfortable when talking online. They can hide behind a screen and avoid confrontation. If they don’t like what you say? Dislike. Or even a simple logoff for the night. And this is exactly what happened to me in terms of online school.

The only thing that kept me accountable in a couple of my classes was the weekly zoom calls. Aside from that, if I got an email from a teacher, it was far too easy to simply not open it. The physical stress I felt every time I received a canvas notification was overwhelming. So what was the easiest thing to do? Avoid and hide. I would close my laptop, turn off notifications, whatever it took to avoid my work. And instead, on the days that I wasn’t working (at a local ice cream shop by the way-is ice cream really “essential”?) I was laying on the couch scrolling through social media.

I can’t help but wonder what the world will look like after this pandemic is over, if it’ll ever truly be the same. Taking this course focused on the “Digital Age” has really opened my eyes to the developing world of technology. I am curious to see if one day all schooling will be done how it is now, if we are getting a taste of what is to come for our children, or their children. To me, it’s a frightening thought. Social media holds more power than many of us realize. Yesterday, I deleted it. And that is why today I am back on my laptop completing my work for the semester after weeks of avoidance. I am looking forward to seeing what else I discover about the effects of the internet after detaching myself from its unforgiving grip.

The Emergence of Written Language

Long before the electronic age emerged, was a time where even the earliest form of communication, written language, did not exist. It is hard to think of what it would be like to live in this time. Imagine navigating through life without road signs, instructions, or letters from grandma. My generation grew up in the digital age, so not only are we used to written language, but we have the luxury of constant immediate access to this form of communication from anywhere in the world right at our fingertips.

Though it’s hard to picture life without writing, there was a time this was the way humans lived. Oral communication was the only method of delivering messages. As writing emerged, there was quite a bit of backlash. Notable people such as Plato argued that, “This invention will produce forgetfulness in the mind of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory” (Gleick, 30). Further arguments mention that writing separates the speaker from the writer. While this holds true, I believe that this can be viewed as a pro of writing rather than a con. The ability to communicate from a distance, whether that be in miles or in time, is an advancement that enables us to reach an incredibly large number of people to share ideas and learn from one another.

The early dependence on oral language, which transitioned into written and now digital computing, is notably prevalent in the humanities, and in my opinion makes the study of humanities possible. The evolution of written language itself is a topic that can be studied within the humanities. But taking it a step further, the transition from written language to digital written language was a major turning point in the timeline of human evolution. It is hard to see, as we are living in it currently and making history. However, the connections that we are able to make due to the creation of written language turned digital has opened the humanities up to endless resources and possibilities. Literature can be accessed within seconds, educators can communicate from opposite sides of the world. Collaborations can be made between people in different time zones in a fraction of the amount of time it would take prior to the evolution of technology.

“The larger the number of senses involved, the better the chance of transmitting a reliable copy of the sender’s mental state,” said Jonathan Miller (Gleick, 48). Miller argues that the emerging forms of technological communication, in this case being the telegraph, telephone, radio and e-mail, rely only on one sense to relay a message from one person to another. While this is technically true, how so does this make these forms of communication inferior to face to face oral communication? Is it so that having an educated conversation over the phone with someone from Europe on a topic that this person would have insider information on, is not worth having simply because you are only hearing their voice rather than speaking face to face? I would argue that this is a very limiting point of view to have, and keeps one from taking advantage of the endless opportunities to learn when technology is put to use.

Though written language, and digital language specifically, is frequently considered to be detrimental to classic communication, the evolution of written language is an integral part of the studies of humanities as a whole. Studying this topic is almost like the brain studying itself, because humanists study how people document the human experience, which is exactly what this post is. I am a humanist. Without the transition from oral to written language, humanist studies would hardly be possible.