Normally, I stop when I hear the chorus of car engines rapidly approaching Commonwealth Avenue, but not today. Today, I could not be bothered with checking who in fact had the right of way in this morning’s battle between Bostonian drivers and pedestrians. I was too busy searching my iPod for the perfect song.
You see, I take classes at FitRec four days a week, and each morning I select the day’s ‘perfect song’ to listen to while I walk back to Warren Towers. This morning I just couldn’t find my jam ‘-‘- I wasn’t feeling sexy enough for Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies,’ angry enough for P!nk’s ‘So What’ or indie enough for Passion Pit’s ‘Sleepyhead.’ I was in a music rut, and I was certainly not going to let the blaring horns of Boston’s crazy drivers interfere with my search. After at least five minutes of jumping from playlist to playlist and crossing busy streets without looking, I settled on Kanye West’s ‘Good Life’ and continued my eastward trek.
When I finally looked up from my iPod for the first time since I left FitRec, I found myself at an intersection surrounded by people I hadn’t noticed. One girl was in my morning FitRec class, another girl lives two floors above mine in Warren and the guy across the street was definitely at Saturday night’s party. At least ten people were stopped at this one intersection, and I recognized most of them. Surely I could have started a conversation with one of the three I mentioned; heck, I could have started a conversation with the ones I didn’t know, too ‘-‘- as my roommates will confirm, I’m queen of awkward conversation starters. But the army of headphones stopped any hopes of interaction.
All ten were plugged into their own musical worlds and as oblivious to their surroundings as I had been just moments earlier. I noticed head-bobbing to the right, hip-swinging to the left and even a little toe-tapping from the party guy across the street, but none of the awkward dancers spoke to or even acknowledged his or her fellow dancing pedestrians. At first, I was annoyed that they all chose to escape into their own worlds instead of being present in the moment, choosing to awkwardly dance by themselves rather than talk to the people surrounding them, but then my ear’s recognition of Kanye’s soulful voice reminded me that I too had chosen isolation over interaction.
This scene stayed with me for the rest of my day. As students at Boston University, we live in what is arguably the nation’s best college town and are surrounded daily by thousands of our peers, yet we choose a finite list of trendy songs and a tiny, illuminated plastic screen over the sights and sounds of the campus and city everyday. We plug into our own worlds and tune out reality, missing most of the little things that make day-to-day life exciting. My morning experience reminded me of a technology addiction survey I conducted as part of a senior project last year ‘-‘- it turns out that an overwhelming majority of students admitted that they reach for their phones and iPods out of insecurity. Students said they use their phones or iPods to look busy or important. In fact, some students even expressed an anxiety about walking to class or sitting at lunch without their phones readily accessible.
Once upon a time, people weren’t so afraid of quiet moments, or their own thoughts, for that matter. Our generation of busybodies has come to believe that we must constantly be connected technologically speaking ‘-‘- but by constantly being connected via cell phones or iPods, we’ve lost a connection to our surroundings and ourselves. For instance, if I hadn’t looked up from my iPod’s screen, I may have missed this morning’s slew of familiar faces or the girl in the wheelchair that needed help rolling up an incline ‘-‘- or that phone conversation I’ve been meaning to add to Facebook’s ‘Overheard at BU.’
Listen up, BU! Life happens when you’re busy trying to find the perfect soundtrack for it. I am not suggesting we reject technology entirely and regress to a ‘simpler’ time. Such a suggestion would be laughable, because technology has become an inextricable part of our generation’s everyday life. But let us at least acknowledge that this simpler time did once exist. We didn’t always need technology to fill every waking ‘-‘- or walking ‘-‘- moment.
So the next time you’re leaving class, leave your technological drug of choice in your bag and see what happens. Maybe you’ll give yourself a chance to digest the lecture you just heard or think about exciting plans for the weekend, or hey, maybe some curly-haired brunette waiting with you at an intersection will strike up an awkward conversation.