Watch What Happens

Photo courtesy of Marc Smith.

I saw a meme recently that caught my eye. It read, “Dance like no one’s watching. Because no one is watching—they’re all on their phones.” Maybe you find this funny. Maybe you find this sad. If it’s funny, or if it’s sad, that’s because it’s relatable. We know this to be true. It feels as though no one’s watching anything but Snapchat and Instagram stories these days.

Nevertheless, we use the word “watch” a lot. We say, “watch your step!” if someone’s about to trip, or “watch it” if they’re about to cross a line. “Watch out” means we’re concerned for someone, and “watch your back” means they should be. We will even go so far as to tell people, “I’m watching my weight these days.” Let’s be real. We don’t watch anything these days if it’s not a show that we’re binge-watching.

We live in a world where rapper Silentó, who actually wanted people to watch him dance, had to write a song called “Watch Me”! If that doesn’t say something about our society…

Then I will.

We need to get off our screens. I know we need them, rely on them, and live through them, but however healthy or unhealthy and helpful or unhelpful they are, we can’t lose touch with the world outside of them. We have to start looking up from our news feeds at least often enough to watch the sunset once in a while. So I’d like to challenge you, whoever you are, to commit to stepping away from your screens for half an hour. Once a day? Once every two days? Once a week? Doesn’t matter. But set aside half an hour when you don’t have to be plugged in, and commit to it. Maybe you’ll choose the half hour before you fall asleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation and UC San Diego’s Student Health Services, research shows that the blue light from our screens is associated with wakefulness and prevents us from falling asleep by disrupting melatonin levels. But to be honest, I don’t really care when you unplug. I just care that we start opening our eyes to something other than YouTube and Netflix.

When you’re not watching that show, watch something else. Watch the ocean, for instance. We’re paying way too much money at UCSD to not enjoy the view. Not to mention, researchers at Stanford University have found that walking through nature has a measurable impact on your mental health and can decrease rumination, a major symptom of depression.

Sleep-deprived Tritons, I am talking to you. Psychologists and other mental health professionals are becoming increasingly concerned with the possibly causal link between the dramatic increase in screen time and the saddening increase in clinical-level anxiety and depression among teens over recent years. This concern is well-founded—a study done back in 2013 (the ancient times, when teens and young adults still used Facebook) found a concerning predictive power of Facebook usage. Teens who used Facebook more often today are more likely to feel down after two weeks, and the study controlled for the effects of possibly-confounding variables, like loneliness and pre-existing levels of depression. This is all besides the growing concerns among medical professionals about internet addiction. This article written and reviewed by medical doctors actually suggests medications that can be taken to treat this condition.

And maybe that points to the incredibly sad way our investment in screens has drained our investment in other humans. This article about the detrimental effects of screens on marriages includes the comical statistic that “84 percent of people aged 19 to 29 said they would rather do without their current partner or their car than give up internet access.” That’s insane. When you’re not watching somebody’s live stream, watch the way your friend or significant other’s face changes when they see you actually listening and making eye contact. Albert Mehrabian, a prominent researcher who wrote about body language and communication, found that over half of communication consists of nonverbal communication. Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell agreed, noting that humans can distinguish hundreds of thousands of facial expressions in person. That’s a lot more than even the most expressive emoji keyboards can offer. It’s not unfair to say that we could do more for our relationships than send heart emojis back and forth.

So let’s start living more of our lives IRL. Start plugging into real life as enthusiastically as you’d plug into the last available outlet in Middle of Muir, and you may be surprised at how your life changes. Whatever you choose, make that commitment and stick to it.

Half an hour.

Commit.

Watch what happens.