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Four Years at the Mount

Face Time of Facebook?

This month we asked our students to watch this 1991 United Airline
and asked them to weight in on its relevancy today. 
As always, their response surprised us.

February 2018

Connecting and creating

Kaitlyn Marks
MSMU Class of 2021

My childhood is a chapter of my life that is tinted golden, the memories swirling with feelings of joy and nostalgia. As a little girl, my sister and I spent our days playing together. Technology quickly became a large part of our lives, but many of our games didn’t involve any form of technology. We spent lots of time outside, imagining lives and creating worlds, playing with dolls, and starting small, pretend businesses in our play room. However, we were also raised to be adaptable. I can still remember when I got my very first laptop, something all mine, and I was able to learn and play and connect with family. Even though I am older now, and technology is a much bigger part of my life, I often think back to the intertwining roots that I feel I experienced between generations: somewhere between now, when technology is in the hands of toddlers and small children constantly, and the time where this was much less common.

While I can clearly visualize the dangers, the consequences and the drawbacks of such accessible and abundant technology, our society has improved and our daily lives have many more capabilities due to its use. One critique I have experienced, especially with the commercial we writers were tasked with viewing this month, is that technology separates us from one another. The critics explain that it creates a divide between businesses and consumers, between celebrities and ordinary people, between everyday friends and family members. The logic behind these devastating conclusions is that technology allows us to avoid face-to-face interactions, phone calls, and personal, deep connections. While I understand the possibility for using technology in a way that creates a sort of divide, I moreover anticipate and admire its ability to connect us. I can, in an instant, see snapshots of my younger cousins’ lives. At college, I can be connected constantly to my family. Instead of just a phone call, I can video-call my parents and ease the homesickness I may be facing. When I have good news, my family and friends can all hear at once. Even more powerful, I use technology to run my own personal blog. I can connect with readers from across America, and across the world. There is a magic, a brilliance, within the virtual world that allows us to bridge gaps of space and time, to reach out and experience connections in so many places.

I have an infinite amount of respect for the generations before me who used physical, tangible maps to navigate on a road trip. My navigational skills are flawed, at best. Much as I try, I find myself always relying on a GPS app on my phone. Family and friends who know me best laugh at me over the childlike wonder with which I view the world around me. How wonderful is it that we can find our way to any destination we like, with a tiny piece of technology at our fingertips? How magical is it that I can write a reflective blog article, publish it on a website I designed myself, and suddenly touch the hearts of people far away from me?

Even if there are negative uses of technology, like credit card company answering machines and automated receivers instead of human customer service departments, there is certainly a magical element to the infinite possibilities and ease that technology offers. I was able to teach my beautiful, kind grandmother, who I miss dearly when I am away at school, to use Facebook and other social media sites, and she loves getting to experience and read snippets of my daily life, especially when things are hectic and I may not have an abundance of time to talk on the phone. However, even the technology within making a phone call has changed and developed for the better. I can talk safely to my family when I am driving, updating them on my progress, with Bluetooth calling, meaning I am hands-free and able to focus on the road. If I have a long day of exams, I can text my younger sister in an instant and wish her luck at a track meet. There are such wonderful capabilities made possible thanks to technology.

Technology also gives us the chance to choose. This may sound strange; we have choices in everything we do. However, technology allows us to have a wealth of knowledge just waiting for us to devour, right at our fingertips. My papers, projects, and ability to learn at school are more diverse and rich, thanks to the ease of access to scholarly journal articles and other information, from anywhere—not just in the campus library. If I don’t have a chance to visit a family member, and they want to see a copy of this newspaper, I can direct them to a webpage, a collective of my articles. I am always so amazed by the ability I have to share with others, and to view the work and lives of others online.

Dangers accompany progress, and there are of course a number of consequences to technology. There are predators able to access the accounts of young teenagers. There are fake profiles on social media, a decline of intimate human connection due to the ‘age of texting’, and of course, damage to linguistic styles due to the incorporation of texting and other shorthand methods of communication. However, I believe that technology is a wonderfully transformative tool. If you want to be informed about political issues, you can find truthful, unbiased information using technology. Libraries have access programs that teach a variety of people to use technology. In order to best develop the technology we are lucky enough to use, we need to be responsible with both how we use it, and with ensuring its accessibility to everyone in the country. In rural areas, minority living areas, and areas of poverty, there is a major global issue called the digital divide, causing rifts and achievement gaps for people who do not have consistent access to technology. With improved programs to increase digital literacy and provide access and knowledge of technology’s uses, I believe it is a magical and important tool that revolutionizes society for the better.

Read other articles by Kaitlyn Marks

Age of Communication

Morgan Rooney
MSMU Class of 2020

As a person who was born in the late 1990s, 1998 to be exact, I have had the experience of growing up during a time of rapid change in technology. When I was a child and I wanted to watch my favorite film, I would search through the box of VHS tapes stored in an old cardboard box in the hall closet. I would be sure to insert it into the VCR player, rewind the tape, and start it from the very beginning. I remember seeing my parents and other grownups walking around with cheap flip phones in their pockets, unaware of the many limitations of the now archaic technological device (at least, compared to what we are used to now). I remember feeling an uncontrollable urge to grow up, as many of us felt, and wanting an old-fashioned cell phone of my own so I could chat with my best friend for hours, rather than having to wait for my mom to get off the phone line. In those days, my computer tower and bulky monitor sat on a small table in the office, across from my parents’ equally bulky, but faster and more updated computers.

I got older, things changed. We made the historic switch from VHS tapes to DVDs. I upgraded from my flip phone to a smartphone, which has been updated to the latest version on multiple occasions. Our TVs got thinner and thinner, but increasingly wider and taller, and, of course, with higher definition. The big USA roadmap for our occasional road trips got folded up and put away after my family bought our first GPS system. With the addition of texting and social media in our lives, communicating instantly with anyone, anytime, became much more possible than it had been before.

One thing that I hear quite often about these new developments of technology is that people, both adults and children, are spending way too much time using this technology rather than communicating face-to-face or living life away from the screen. I do believe these statements have their truths to them. Many of us have experienced spending time with another person—it could be a date, or even just spending time with a family member or friend—and the other person just cannot seem to put their phone down. He is addicted to it, and pays more attention to the screen than the person right in front of him. To me, this seems to be unhealthy, and more than anything, annoying. I don’t claim that I have never picked up my phone when spending time in the presence of another person, because that would be a lie, but I do think there is a point of limitation. Sometimes, I find even myself spending too much time using my smartphone. I know that I am not an exception to this trend, and sometimes should be spending my time elsewhere, being more productive and doing things to improve the overall quality of my life. Although this is something I strive to improve in my own life, and I think many others should too, I do see how technology improves my own life and the lives of the people around me every day.

When I first moved away to attend college here in Emmitsburg, it was already such a big decision and drastic change to my life. I was coming here from halfway across the country. The most common thing people would ask me when I told them of my decision was, "Won’t you miss your family?". The answer was, of course I would, but it wasn’t like I would never speak to them or have maybe a weekly phone call. With the technology we had, I would be able to contact them at any time I wanted to, and they were able to contact me whenever they pleased. The simplest question could be asked through a quick text message, and all was smooth sailing. What about my friendships from high school? Our contact is not just limited to an email or letter in the mail, though that can be fun on occasion. We can talk hours on the phone, catching up with our new busy lives, or even video chatting where we can see each other’s faces. It’s the closest we can get to being together, when we are not physically together, and I think it is wonderful. Old, long-term friendships don’t have to fade or grow apart, but can continue to strengthen. When it is easier for people who do not live near one another to keep in contact, it is more likely they will. What I am really trying to say here, is that even though I am spending a fair amount of time on my smartphone, I am still able to maintain social interactions with friends and family. In fact, it helps me stay in contact with my closest friends and remain in their lives, even when we live far away from each other. No, I do not believe this replaces a face-to-face conversation, or spending time together in person. Those things are still very important to me, but to be able to talk to my old friends so easily and often means a great deal to me and I’m glad I have the technology to do so.

Sure, increased use of technology has its drawbacks and what I would call annoyances, but when I think of technology and how my friends and I use it, I see it more in a positive light. It is a great way to stay up-to-date on the things going on around us and keep in contact with those we love, no matter where they may be in the world. If we don’t allow what is in our hands to control us, it can be advantageous, and improve our relationships with our friends and family instead of allowing them to fade away.

Read other articles by Morgan Rooney

Balancing efficiency and alienation in the age of technology

Shea Rowell
MSMU Class of 2019

"Please listen to the following options, and select one of the following; press one if you are calling to ask about ticket sales; press two if…" the sickeningly robotic voice intones as I struggle to maintain composure. Phone to my ear, I listen to the litany of options and hope that at the end of the list I will hear those rare but magical words: "If you’d like to be connected to the next available associate, press 0 or stay on the line." This means that I am only a brief on-hold music interlude away from contacting a real, living human. Shocking, isn’t it? There is nothing as relieving as finally connecting with a real person on the other end of the phone, or better yet, face-to-face. Human interaction, however, is a phenomenon which is slowly disappearing from the daily experience of most Americans.

Technology, of course, is the culprit. It has empowered us to order pizzas, book hotel rooms, and pay for our groceries without the strain of conversation with another person. In fact, many of my peers suffer from a condition known as "phone anxiety," which amounts to fear of speaking to strangers on the phone. Technology is obviously not an inherently negative thing. The majority of technology’s "side effects" are remarkably positive. Technological advancements in education, medicine, transportation, industry, etc. have made once-difficult tasks easy. Most Americans now have the world at their fingertips through their smart phones, tablets, and laptop computers. The possibilities are endless, and technology is moving and improving every day.

It is no secret, however, that technology makes humans more and more distant from each other. Our social interactions largely take place over social media platforms, our communication takes place over text or email, and our daily tasks can be more easily managed on the computer or the latest app than though more direct means. Society has irreversibly changed, and this is not a bad thing. There is immense value, however, in taking a step away for a few moments.

During my winter break, my sister and I hopped on a plane to visit our grandmother who lives in Florida. Taking a step into her house is like stepping back in time. If the grandmother vibe was unclear by the pink floral wallpaper she had hung in every room, or the light blue Grand Marquis parked in the driveway, it was made remarkably clear through the lack of technology in the place. She does not own a computer or a smart phone, nor does she intend to change that. Her daughter recently bought her a tablet as a gift. Interested, my sister and I asked her what she uses it for. "Email," she responded, "and I only check it a couple times a week."

This was a completely foreign concept to my sister and I, who were both born and raised with accessible technology. And surprisingly, our stay with her was refreshing. For the majority of the trip, I left my phone out of sight and out of mind, trying instead to meet my grandmother on her level. The trip was filled with conversation. I learned more about her and her life in my five-day visit than I had known in the twenty-one years I had known her before. I learned about her childhood, her relationship to my grandfather, her hobbies, etc. I will cherish the relationship I was able to build with her in that week.

A famous and slightly cliché Maya Angelou quote reads: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." I hope, in my week with my grandmother, I made her feel as loved and cared for as she did me. The simple act of putting away the cellphone or computer to be fully present with others reminds them that they are valued and loved. They will remember how you make them feel. The same principle applies to businesses.

During my summer breaks, I work at a small farm-to-table restaurant waiting tables. The restaurant has only twelve tables, and the same staff comes back day after day to cook, clean, and serve each day. The customers get to know the staff, and we get to know the customers—at least the regulars. The personal touch makes all the difference. I can welcome them by name: "Good morning Miss Kathy! I’ll be right back with your coffee" and then ask about her week while we wait for her food. She, and many other customers, come back, not for the food or the prices (although both are excellent) but for the personal attention they receive from the staff; each staff member, in turn, cares greatly for the customers.

At the restaurant, we make them feel cared for. Staff are closely accessible to customers, and attentive to their needs. Technology, however, has a bad habit of distancing and distracting us from that personal touch. Recorded phone messages and online services make the customer feel alienated and isolated. Customers remember that feeling, and return to the places where they feel welcomed and loved.

It is impossible, of course, to completely abandon technology. I greatly value the ability it gives me to contact people who are far away from me, to quickly order whatever I may need on Amazon, or to sate my curiosity with a seconds-long Google search – not to mention the entertainment of Netflix or Spotify! It is, however, important to recognize the changes it creates in our lives, for better and for worse. It can enhance our world without distancing us from one another, but technology users must find the balance themselves. Businesses, likewise, must remember that alienation is a side-effect of efficiency, and that the customers reaching out to them are not as robotic as the services they are offered. As humans, we desire connection and community, intimacy and love. We will remember how others make us feel; let us spread compassion instead of alienation.

Read other articles by Shea Rowell

For want of humanity

Sarah Muir
MSMU Class of 2018

When venturing out to write this, I had thought I should speak of technology. In retrospect, this was a rather a foolhardy enterprise, since I would not consider what I know as first rate (or even, second-rate) information. Besides some basic understanding of how to work my computer and phone, I am far from being considered "technologically savvy". However, as a member of the human race I can at least talk about how we are evolving alongside the technology we create. So instead, I propose to speak of humanity; its relationships, genius and innovation in the world that it has built for itself.

Humanity is ingenious and every one of us born with an insatiable curiosity. Throughout our lives we explore the world around us with an unwavering need to connect and interact with others. The things that we create are proof of this: Phones, cars, computers, airplanes, postal services, televisions, all of these inventions strive to fulfill our need to reach out across whatever divide there is and touch each other. We can know what is happening on a different country at any given moment, we can talk to strangers or friends on the other side of the globe and learn from them all that they know of their slice of the world. For this reason, we can say that we are closer now than we ever were; however, this I have found, is not entirely true. There is a double-edged sword that comes with technology. It comes when it is exploited or taken for granted and leads to a willingness to see human beings not as they are, but as a series of numbers and pixels on a screen.

For this article, all the student writers watched an airline commercial from the late nineties. The manager of this airline tells his employees that they have been fired by a 20-year loyal customer who no longer recognized the company. The advertisement focused on the shift from face to face customer service to relying on automated messages and fax. The whole thing was only a minute long, but it encapsulated a problem that has not gone away. In fact, the opposite is true, the problem has gotten worse. Nowadays it is not only affecting the way in which we conduct business, but the way in which we communicate with each other. With the development of social media apps, our interactions have altered to a point wherein we cannot be alone without our 200 plus followers coming along for the ride. I know I probably sound like an old curmudgeon, complaining about these young’uns today with their instaface and snapbook, but life surrounds me with daily proof.

This is a small example that has stuck in my mind. I was out to breakfast with my family when we spied a scene worthy of Norman Rockwell. Two pairs of gentleman sitting by the window in a pool of morning sunlight; separated by tables, chairs and several decades. The older couple sat across from each other holding up a newspaper between them, complaining about the headlines and discussing this and that. The young pair a few feet away, had their heads bent over their in a odd reverence and faces slightly lit by their phones. They did not utter a word to each other or even spare a glance at their equally occupied companion. Looking on I couldn’t tell if they were friends, lovers or strangers and I felt a cold uneasiness wash over me. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, I have seen people on dates, friends out to lunch, and entire families completely disconnected from anything outside of their screens. I am guilty of this. In public, without a book, I whip out my phone and try to avoid whatever people want to make small talk. At home I click away on my laptop, television on (and ignored) in favor of procrastinating whatever necessary tasks have found their way to my To-do list.

News is also rapidly evolving with technology and seems to be pouring out every way you look to the point where it becomes too much to take in. Stories of corruption, bloodshed and anger are becoming common. While the world has been made smaller it is still easy to distance yourself from the faces on the screen because they are shadows in a nebulous network of information.

For the past four years I have been working for the Emmitsburg News-Journal. This local newspaper that values itself on developing a personal relationship with its readership and community has taught me the importance of this bond between the costumer and the business. I have seen this newspaper call on students to understand what it means to work as a team, to build and improve and draw the surrounding community together.

Technology is a wonderful phenomenon that opens so many possibilities in the world. It has advanced to the point in which nearly anything is possible, but with this extreme potential to do good, it has an equally great propensity to cause harm. For bigger businesses this is made even worse. Now the face on the screen is not a human being, but a source of revenue; they are broken down into numbers and figures. The way we use technology has created a society in which people have become cold and desensitized. The world is divided by screens that have made us cynical and blind to the fact that we are all members of the human race. Today, we have to remember that we need more humanity than machinery.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir

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