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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Column: Flipside of quick fixes

A woman at Starbucks the other day seemed surprised when I asked for the time. That’s like, so 1990s, right? With the ubiquity of cell phones these days, it’s implied that everyone can now supply that information for themselves.

I was, however, taking a break from my phone that day. I had a lot of schoolwork to do, and let’s face it: For those of us with ADD tendencies, Facebook and texting are copouts from sustained concentration.

The way I see it, the correlation between texting and Facebook with face-to-face human interaction is akin to the comparison between excessive caffeine with a good night’s sleep.

While one is obviously better for you, the other is easier to attain and implement. We’re all about efficiency in modern-day America. Sometimes I feel like if “true love” was available in canned form at the supermarket, people in desperation would actually shell out the cash for it.

Quick fixes like coffee initially served much different functions. Though they continue to serve their initial function, they have also developed the capacity for people to use them in potentially destructive ways, evolving into mediums for self-sabotage.

Initially, coffee was a form of social bonding, to be enjoyed and savored between groups. In 16th century Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, coffeehouses were social hubs for artistic and intellectual collaboration. Nowadays it’s very common to see someone downing their coffee solo, solely for the purpose of an energy boost.

It’s always been recognized that coffee, in excess, can have detrimental effects, especially for those prone to anxiety. In 1511, coffee was even forbidden by conservative, orthodox imams at a theological court in Mecca due to its “over-stimulating effect.”

Since we’re all about efficiency, it makes sense that many people would turn not only to coffee, but to multi-tasking. Specifically, if you have your Facebook window open at the same time your essay template is open, many would say you’re killing two birds with one stone.

But as Rajiv Narayan (to my right) explained in his column last week, if you have Facebook open at the same time as your word document, you’re not multi-tasking. Rather, you’re shifting your attention as you dart from one window to another.

Facebook and texting make it so that when you encounter writer’s block, rather than slowly and methodically working through the conundrum, you give in to quick impulse.

It’s safe to say that cyber forms of communication disrupt the natural flow of writing a paper. But are Facebook and texting really unique in that regard? Can’t anything in this world serve as a distraction?

It’s true that anything can serve as a distraction, but it’s also true that some distractions are inherently more relaxing than others, sending the individual back to the original task with a renewed vision and restored mental faculties. These distractions may cultivate a passion or a hobby, or they’re just inherently cathartic for the mind and body. Facebook and cyber conversations fulfill neither of these functions. Instead, they are the “empty carbs” of the distraction world, lacking in mental nutrients.

“As an evolution major, I like to think about the deleterious affect that un-natural things have on humans,” said my friend Luke Hammons, a fifth-year senior. “Particularly aspects of this new artificial world that technology has helped construct.”

His philosophy, in part, prompted my cell phone break. At times like these, I always think there’s something to be said about Henry David Thoreau’s vision of living in nature sequestered from the hustle and bustle of society.

A proponent for simple living in natural surroundings, Thoreau built a quiet life for himself in the serenity of Walden Pond. Few ties to social contact gave Thoreau the space to cultivate his inner aura.

Like Luke, I’m all about some aspects of that vision. I agree with being cut off from technology, but I don’t think I could flourish were I to be severed from human contact. I would be damn lonely.

Since most of us, for pragmatic reasons, can’t live a transcendentalist lifestyle, here’s a helpful alternative I’ve found, both for getting work done and clearing mind space. Whenever I encounter writer’s block, I print out what I have and take it somewhere else. Abandoning my computer does away with some mental stress, freeing me to concentrate on the paper while allowing my eyes a much-needed reprieve.

If the weather’s nice, I find the outdoors to be a great place for working on the essay. If the weather’s bad, or it’s nighttime, an empty room will suffice.

Next time you hit a dead-end with your essay, instead of clicking to Facebook in a knee-jerk reaction, click “print,” and take that paper with you to a mind-clearing environment. You’ll be living Thoreau’s vision without needing to travel too far.

ELENI STEPHANIDES can’t give out her phone number in this column, but she prefers voice-to-voice contact over cyber bonding. Nonetheless, you can shoot her an e-mail at estephanides@ucdavis.edu.

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