Following up on 9/29 article: Why you shouldn’t sleep in the same room as your phone


Elizabeth McLaughlin, Editor


Attention is a powerful tool: one that enhances our human experiences, and one that is highly prized and captured by technology and media.

It has been nearly four months since I wrote the article entitled “Why you shouldn’t sleep in the same room as your phone.” After re-reading it this afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice ways in which I could improve upon it. I also noticed that my relationship with my phone has changed a bit since Sept. 29, the day that article was published. So without further ado, here’s the follow-up that no one asked for.

Full disclosure: I sleep with my phone in my room again. One night, as we were all wrapping up whatever conversation filled our living room that evening, my roommate Mia made a comment to my other roommate, Ren, that perhaps leaving her laptop downstairs overnight wasn’t the best idea in the event of a home invasion. It sucks that we have to think that way, but this advice was coming off the heels of a string of home invasions on our block committed by a man who lives just three doors down from us. Safeguarding ourselves and our belongings was a priority situated at the front of our minds. I plugged my phone into its usual spot next to our TV and went upstairs, not thinking much of Mia’s comment… until I started perseverating on it.

“If someone breaks in and steals my phone, they wouldn’t be stealing just my phone — I keep all of my cards in a wallet attached to my phone case. My debit card, my other debit card, my other debit card, my expired debit card, my credit card, my ID, my school ID, my expired ID. They would have it all. And I would have to re-obtain all those elements of my identity.” Talk about a headache! This was the opposite of my intention when I decided to sleep in a phone-less room, so needless to say, that night was the last night I heeded my own advice.

But that night launched a series of moments with myself in which I began to evaluate exactly how much of my identity is tethered to a device. My copious amount of cards aside, my phone is also a portal into the various versions of myself that I choose to share with others. I try to limit my social media to just Instagram these days, but even there, I have two accounts: a personal one and an art one. To me, there is not much delineation between what I might share on the former versus the latter; they represent the same person, just with different photos and captions. But my personal lack of boundaries between the two doesn’t matter much; by making both accounts, I chose to fragment my identity, creating two canalized versions of the one person I know myself to be. And that’s a little unnerving.

I fell down a rabbit hole of making a mental note of all the online avatars I’ve created for myself over my 21 years of life. It all started in late elementary school, early middle school when I created way too many One Direction fan accounts. And in 2012, I created my Facebook account to connect with relatives who lived in other states and also to play Farmville. Somewhere around then, I made multiple Tumblr accounts: for writing and One Direction, mainly. Thanks to the strong community that Directioners so famously fostered, I made virtual friends all over; I even inherited a meme account from one of those friends, who disposed of it and all of its ten thousand followers as easily as one would dispose of a used tissue.

I was very present online, because that’s what you do when you’re a teenager in the 21st century. Even now, I can remember with great detail the types of environments I was exposed to from platform to platform. My One Direction fan accounts are where I was first exposed to digital art; I remember becoming good friends with a Brazilian girl named Paula whose digital paintings of Niall Horan still impress me to this day. On my meme page, I exchanged units of cultural ideas and symbols with tens of thousands of people across the world (after all, that’s what the word “meme” literally means: a unit of cultural information spread by imitation, as defined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene”). On my Tumblr accounts, I had access to a range of writers; the ones I found most interesting were the other 16-year-old girls who just so happened to be situated somewhere else on the planet. On a darker note, I was exposed to the nasty eating disorder environment that was all too familiar to girls like me in that era.

I had seen and experienced so much thanks to the Internet. And looking back on it, I can’t help but feel protective of my younger self; of young girls now who are experiencing their own digital renaissance as I type these words. And my concern isn’t reserved for teenage girls; it extends to all of us who regularly interact with the Internet. I’m realizing more and more with each passing day how much of who we are, individually and collectively, is informed by the ways technology captures our attention. Four months out from my initial article and almost two years into a global pandemic, I’m constantly taking note of how precious our attention is — and how sophisticated, calculated and well-funded the various attacks so often made on it are.

The word “attention” comes from Latin ad + tendere, meaning “to stretch toward.” I think it’s important to make the distinction that when we pay attention to something, the word itself does not describe a “bringing forth,” but instead a “stretching toward.” It’s as if we meet the object of our attention where it is, perceive it and then move onto the next object once we’ve had our fill. If it were the case that the act of paying attention is a bringing forth of sorts, then wouldn’t there be a loss in understanding by moving the object away from its original space in time? I like to think of an analogy of seeing the Eiffel Tower in pictures on our phone as compared to going to Paris and seeing it with our own eyes; the former eliminates much of the richness and enjoyment found in “stretching toward” in favor of the ease of “bringing forth.” Attention is a beautiful thing, I’m learning, precisely because it invites us to stretch ourselves toward something else; to step outside the perceived boundaries of the self to attempt to meet something (or someone else) where it is.

I’m also learning that the way media is presented to us is sometimes more compatible with a “bringing forth” model than a “stretching toward” model. We don’t have to go digging to find something that will capture our attention. In fact, we often do the opposite of digging: we just peruse the surface until we’ve had our fill. (If you don’t believe me, just consider the way a Twitter homepage is designed. The man who invented the “pull to refresh” mechanism, Loren Brichter, has since expressed great remorse for designing something that is so adept at holding our attention prisoner.) I’m afraid that we engage too often with too much surface-level attention that fails to satiate our curiosity. In other words, it’s easier to let ourselves be presented with information than it is to actively seek out what we want to know. I’ve realized that this whole critique I’ve just made is why I’m so against Tik Tok. The idea that an algorithm brings forth content for us which we then find worthy of our attention — to a frighteningly accurate degree, I might add — feels more than defeating; it feels uncreative.

It feels like the tools that enable us to fully experience what it means to be human are becoming dull. We have too many apps and instances where we can let others (people, algorithms) bring forth objects worthy of our attention; too infrequently do we actually stretch ourselves toward something else. I can’t blame us; actively shifting our attention toward x is harder than being passively presented with x, and it’s far too easy to dismiss x with a simple flick of our fingers. This is all to say, I prefer to spend time on the Internet actively seeking out things that interest me than spend time being a receptacle for whatever the algorithms have identified as worthy of my attention at that moment. In other words, I’d rather be (more) in charge of what I pay attention to than let my attention be channeled and canalized by external forces.

Harry Frankfurt is a philosopher who was born in 1929 in Langhorne, PA. I mention his birthplace because when I discovered it via a quick Wikipedia search, I was delighted to learn that he grew up just 30 minutes from me. I think it’s important that we supplement our interests with context; the context that this philosopher and I share in a geographic locale has made his impact on me all the more potent. I definitely need to dive deeper into his work on free will and the concept of a person, but there is one idea that I want to work into this article before I sign off: the idea of wanting to want what we want.

Say it’s Sunday morning and what I want is to scroll on social media, and I know that I want to do that because I wake up and reach for my phone. Is that what I want to be doing? Sometimes, yes. More often, no. So when I don’t want to want to do that, I don’t do it. At the risk of typing “want” way too many times, I’ll leave off with this: I want to enjoy what I do as I do it; I want what I do to add to the fullness of being human. So I have conversations like these with myself and others, consciously considering attention, both at the individual and collective levels. After all, what we pay attention to is what we make our lives out of; I don’t know about you, but I want to make a life I love.

For more on the topic of attention, and to find out where I learned a lot of the facts I used in this article, check out Jenny Odell’s book, “How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.”

Social media: building up society and breaking down mental health


Meghan Cain, Staff

Social media has become a dominating force in our society and is being introduced at increasingly younger ages. Knowing the influence that social media has over its users, it is no surprise to me that overuse of social media was rated number one on the 2020 Top 10 Child Health Concerns During the Pandemic List. Especially following the pandemic, which allowed for an overwhelming amount of free time for a lot of kids and adolescents, social media use is continuously growing.

In my opinion, the most harmful aspect of social media is its effects on the mental health of kids and adolescents, negatively affecting their confidence. I am currently working on an independent research study seeking to find the correlation between social media use and adolescent girls’ body dissatisfaction, social comparison and internalization of the thin ideal. The findings have shown so far that there is a positive correlation between social media use and negative self-feelings, which is worrisome considering the age at which social media is being introduced nowadays.

Social media robs children of their youth, and for adolescents, who are already experiencing a confusing period in their lives due to puberty, social media increases exposure to unrealistic idealized bodies and pressures them to change their appearances. A previous study of social media use and adolescent body image has found that “time spent using social media… is associated with greater preoccupation with how the body looks, which is, in turn, associated with more negative feelings about the body.” This finding supports the idea that social media has a negative influence on youth and their self-satisfaction, which is critical during such a vulnerable stage in their life. 

While there are many arguments against social media that expose the harms associated with it, there are also positives that come from social media, which leads this to be a controversial topic. One study that I have found supports social media in stating that it has “been used by adolescents to increase social connectivity, broaden social relationships and for entertainment… social media is a potentially inexpensive way to have conversations about mental health, important information and challenge stigma… to promote help-seeking for mental health difficulties.” There are clearly benefits of social media as it increases access to mental health awareness and information on coping, as well as increasing socialization and maintaining friendships. Through the interviews with young users in this same study, it was found that social media can be a way to promote mental health, but also to decrease it. Adolescent users had stated that “social media can fuel cyber-bullying and that could lead to problems like suicide, anger and depression.”

This theme leads me to a second study which found that “adolescents who spent more time on screen activities were significantly more likely to have high depressive symptoms or have at least one suicide-related outcome.” Additionally, electronic device use was significantly correlated to all four suicide-related outcomes, which are feeling sad or hopeless, seriously considering suicide, making a suicide plan and attempting suicide. There is an abundance of information that supports either side of the social media argument, which leads to a bit of controversy.

Social media is such a common aspect of our everyday lives that youths being on electronics or social media is normalized overall — a community-based issue, as social media has become ingrained into our society and would be difficult to remove.

As far as addressing this issue goes, spreading awareness of the harms of social media may provide some benefits. In terms of solving the issue, I do not think that much can be done on an individual level to decrease the detrimental effects of social media as a whole, but steps can be taken to ensure that one is using social media in healthy ways, as well as monitoring children and adolescents’ use. To solve the issue from the root, social media should not be introduced at elementary age, and when it is introduced it should be monitored. In other ways, the issue can to be addressed by the platforms’ corporations. One great strategy that I have seen in the news recently is actually from Facebook. The corporation is introducing features that promote wellbeing on the Instagram app, which is a branch of Facebook, such as prompting young users to take breaks. Another feature will be to “nudge” young users when they are looking at photos that may harm their well-being. There will also be optional parental controls that allow guardians to supervise what their children are doing online, which may be a bit controversial. In my opinion, these controls can be a great way to promote healthy social media use, but it also depends on what exactly the guardians will be able to see. The best way to monitor would be to make sure the children are not spending too much time on social media, and putting parental control locks on certain media to ensure they aren’t being exposed to harmful content.

In conclusion, social media use amongst our youth is an issue that I find to be important, and is one that I feel is only just beginning to gain traction. While we are slowly making advances in the promotion of healthy media use, we have a long way to go as a society. There are numerous arguments regarding the negative impacts of social media use on youth, but there are many to support it as well, so this issue must continue to be explored. I am trying to do my part in addressing the issue by conducting my independent study, and hope to use the results to make an impact.

You Posted a Black Square in June — What Are You Doing Today?


Mary Kraus, Staff

On June 2, 2020, 28 million people posted pictures of black squares on social media to show their support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the Black lives lost to police violence. While the intention of this day, known as Blackout Tuesday, was to show solidarity and call attention to racism, in reality, these blank posts clogged up feeds and hashtags for weeks while simultaneously gaining no progress towards justice for  Black people. 

The pinnacle of anti-racism efforts should not be spontaneous declarations of “allyship” and “wokeness” on social media. These posts can be considered virtue signaling, as they serve primarily to show that the user is moral and falls on the “right side of history,” or performative activism, as the user is speaking out on social justice issues simply to appeal to their audience and peers. Ultimately, these posts redirect attention away from the community the user is claiming to support, and right back towards the, typically white and privileged, user.

However, social media can still be a useful tool for social justice activism if proper preparation and thought goes into the post or repost. We must always be asking ourselves both our intentions for posting and what impact it will have. Am I posting this to show something about myself, or about the community I am advocating for? Does this post have substance; what is it that my audience is learning? Does it motivate readers to do something beyond reading and learning? Especially helpful posts are those which serve as a resource for information and have a call to action.

Truly fighting against white supremacy and racism requires a commitment to work beyond the posts. Don’t get me wrong — awareness and education are very important, but they get Black people no closer to actual, tangible liberation. Reposts can make people more knowledgeable of the work to be done, but they do not break down the social norms and overarching institutions that serve white people while simultaneously harming Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).

There are other steps we can take from our phones that have more of an impact than just a like and a share. We can sign petitions — more than just the few that are trending. We can call and email federal, state and local representatives to demand their support for certain movements or pieces of legislation. Oftentimes, there are even pre-written scripts that we can access and use for direction and convenience. We can do our research and choose not to spend our money at companies that promote white supremacy, discredit the Black Lives Matter movement, exploit the working class and benefit from prison labor, instead opting for ethical and Black-owned small businesses.

One of the best ways to liberate Black people is to eliminate the racial wealth gap. White people have 8 times the median net worth as Black people, and Black people are twice as likely to be in poverty. So, the best way to get Black people more money is to, well, give them more money. The rise of digital activism makes mutual aid easier to participate in than ever. Mutual aid differs from charity in the sense that it does not require a third-party organization to transfer funds and the recipient retains their independence with ability to spend the funds however they see fit according to their needs and situation. I know most of us could spare one morning of Starbucks coffee; why not try redistributing that wealth instead?

There are actions we can take beyond the phone screens, too. White people can self-reflect on ways we continue to benefit from white privilege, even though we may be against it morally. We can attend classes, workshops, and online events that teach us to put our social justice passion into action. We can physically attend protests to make sure that demands are not silenced and ignored. Perhaps most importantly, we can address racism every time we encounter it at home, school, work, or elsewhere. Microaggressions, contrary to the term, are, in fact, incredibly discriminatory, violent, and harmful. Tolerating racism and remaining silent in the face of racism makes us part of the problem, not the solution.

There are hundreds of other actions I could recommend, but as a white person, my last suggestion to you is to diversify your feed. As white people, we cannot possibly comprehend the lived realities of our BIPOC friends and neighbors. We must listen to Black voices, support them, and amplify them. Some of my favorite people on Instagram are Avery Francis (@averyfrancis), Mithsuca Berry (@mythsooka), Michelle Nicole (@passionandpower), and Monique Melton (@moemotivate). Check out their accounts, give them some follows, and send them a few dollars too, while you’re at it. Some of their content may be free, but that doesn’t mean that their labor should be.

White people possess white privilege, therefore the power and responsibility to destroy racism is in our hands. This article is a call to action for every single white person reading this and every single white person you know. The bottom-line is we need to do more — all of us, not just some of us. Significant and sustainable change is only forced through consistent and persistent effort. If 28 million people called on their governments to defund the police, donated their extra income and called out racism every time they witnessed it, we would probably accomplish a lot more than painting a social media platform black for one day.

Horrors of online harassment


James LeVan, Staff

On Friday, Feb. 5, the Washington Post’s “Made by History” section published a piece by Dr. Jamie Goodall (a historian at the U.S Army Center of Military History and expert on the history of piracy) about the Super Bowl and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The main topic of her piece was the problem of romanticization of outlaw figures who, in their heyday, were not revered and heroic as we portray. She did not write about how Tampa should change its name; she did not condemn the city (though given what I saw of the stadium crowding, I might). She merely wished to point out that sometimes the figures we romanticized were not regarded as romantic heroes in their time and that we should remember that. The topic of this article is the threats of violence directed at Dr. Goodall since her op-ed was published and the issue of threats and violence directed at professional women who share their opinion, even an expert opinion.

Dr. Goodall’s piece went viral in the days since its publication. The headline has been tweeted about and retweeted on social media, most notably by former President Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and a vlogger named Matt Walsh who in his bio calls himself a “theocratic fascist, tyrant and beekeeper” (why anyone would admit that about themselves, I do not know). Even the Daily Mail wrote a piece on her and took the time to go through her Instagram and find photos of her wearing a facemask with Jolly Rogers and one professional pic of her where you can see her tattoo of a female pirate, using these as examples that she is a hypocrite. The reactions have ranged from calling her a hypocrite, to attacks towards her former colleagues at Stevenson University, to threats of rape and other forms of violence against her. She has not left social media but she has blocked many of these online trolls and has locked down her account, showing a tremendous amount of strength and courage while being mobbed by a group of people who get upset by a piece saying that not everyone in the past was a romantic swashbuckling hero.

Dr. Goodall’s case is not a one-time phenomenon. Sadly, it is part of a pattern of women who in various industries become the target of online harassment and threats of sexual violence simply because they wrote or said something in their field.. This whole situation brings up memories of both gamergate and comicsgate and how internet figures make it their mission to attack women.

Gamergate was an online harassment campaign directed at women involved in the video game industry. Zoe Quinn, an independent video game developer who created a video about dealing with depression, was targeted with threats of violence and exposing of personal information. In 2014, she did an interview for The Guardian where she said she was afraid to go home and was living on her friends’ couches because of threats against her person. She and several other women connected to video games were bombarded with attacks from anonymous online individuals. These threats included attacks on their professional careers to gruesome images of dead animals sent to their inbox. Comicsgate was a similar harassment campaign but was targeted at professionals in the comics industry, arguing that diversity in writing rooms and the creation of characters who were either female or people of color were ruining the industry. Members of comics forums even created a blacklist of comics creators they argued were destroying the industry (many on the list were women, people of color and LGBT creators). Much like with gamergate, they used online harassment to target women in the industry. An example of this would be the case of Heather Antos and the milkshake photo.

In 2017, Heather Antos was an editor at Marvel Comics and had posted a photo of herself and some of her female colleagues going out for milkshakes after the work week. The spectacularly apolitical photo was quickly bombarded with online trolls connected to comicsgate attacking Antos and her colleagues and arguing that they were the reason the comic book industry was seeing a decline in sales.

These online harassment mobs are a byproduct of a culture war that has been brewing in the United States for decades. The people attacking these women do not really care about history, comics or video games. Rather, they desire to silence individuals and control these industries that they have no real connection to. It is more about making women and people of color in these industries more submissive to their wills and thus unable to speak or voice an opinion. We can see this in all these cases. The desire is not about the financial health of these fields or the quality of content being created. It is about dominating and making the victims of these harassment campaigns submissive. If this all sounds incredibly rapey, that is because it is. Let us speak plainly on this.

In my professional, academic and personal life I have had the opportunity to work with and know numerous women who are quite brilliant and frankly I have no qualms admitting that I am mediocre compared to a lot of them. They all have brilliant knowledge on subjects and opinions but are often silenced or forced to hide their views.. If they don’t, the troll army will come after them and spend weeks threatening their wellbeing. I could honestly write 20 pages on the issues women face in the workplace and online. However, I am not sure I am the right person to write that piece. Instead, all I will say is that in society we must be more alert to these kinds of hate campaigns and realize that they are a threat to the rights and safety of our colleagues, friends, family and fellow human beings. The absence of those voices at the table because of a bunch of angry bloggers would be nothing short of a tragedy for these industries but also for society as a whole and will result in a stifled unenlightened mess.

A case for meditation


Elizabeth McLaughlin, Staff

Getty Images

Our phones can serve as a bottomless pit of distractions, leaving us drained and dissatisfied. Meditation can help.

Do you have trouble focusing in class? Do you find that you can’t muster up the courage to do that assigned reading? Do you ever find yourself exhausting your Twitter feed, closing out of the app, only to reopen it seconds later, expecting something different? Do you find yourself in a constant negative feedback loop of ennui? First, we’ve all been there. Second, you should try meditation.

To be clear, the central purpose of this article is not to claim that you should meditate, but rather to illuminate the struggles we face, especially in a post-Zoom world, while offering an empirical prescription to those ailments. This prescription has served me well, but in no way do I want to act as a meditation evangelist. Simply put, you can take it or leave it.

Let’s briefly discuss some of the struggles of being human. Listlessness is characterized as a lack of interest or energy; I believe that we are engaging in an attack on our energy levels every time we unlock our phones. The adult brain can store between five and nine items in short term memory. You can open Twitter, and by the time you see your tenth tweet, it is very likely that you can’t remember the first. More importantly, when presented with much more than five to nine pieces of information at a time, it’s easy for our brains to get overwhelmed. It’s a shame that social media, by design, presents you with an infinite amount of information at once, so long as you enable it. It’s a shame because our prefrontal cortex — which evolved millions of years ago to mediate the functions of goal articulation, goal retention, and self-discipline — is no match for computers. When you put it that way, it’s no wonder that we are turning our thumbs arthritic in the name of scrolling.

But it doesn’t need to be so bleak. Sure, we’ve designed a computer that can accurately anticipate our needs and desires and use that information to present us with our own virtual reality. Big deal. Still, the quest to manage stress isn’t completely hopeless. I was surprised to learn that the term “stressed out” was invented sometime in the last century. Before we had a name for it, did people feel stressed out? Of course they did, but their stress was informed by extremely different circumstances, and they just didn’t identify that overwhelmedness like we do. Nonetheless, holding all circumstances equal, there is one timeless practice that, if done correctly, is almost guaranteed to reduce stress. You guessed it: meditation.

You’ve probably heard that before; that meditation is worth trying, whether it was from a friend, a fellow netizen, or a public figure. Neuroscientist Sam Harris says meditation is “the practice of learning to break the spell and wake up;” I concur with Mr. Harris here. There are many unique forms of meditation and the practice itself has evolved from myriad different branches of philosophy and religion. In Zen Buddhism, there is zazen, or sitting meditation. This is the form I espouse, although there are other forms that provide their own benefits. Bodhicitta is a Sanskrit word which is interpreted to mean Beginner’s Mind or Awakening Heart. A key element of experiencing bodhicitta is attentiveness to each moment, in each moment. Thich Nhat Hanh once said something along the lines of, “if you miss the moment, you miss your life.”

Meditation is about being present in each moment. You’ve definitely heard that kitsch phrase before, but I find it a lot easier said than done. Try it. Find a comfortable seat and settle in. Aim your eyes downward, or completely close them at the risk of accidentally falling asleep (I can’t say that hasn’t happened to me once or twice). Then, notice. Notice any sounds that might arise around you; let them come and let them go. Notice how your body feels, if you’re needlessly tense in certain areas (you probably are, and that’s okay). Notice the temperature of the room, if you can. Just notice things, letting them come and go. Don’t hurry them or ignore them. Focus on your breath. I’ll admit, it’s harder than you might think. But if you get off track, if your mind begins to wander, that’s okay. Just redirect your attention to your breath. Keep on doing that, and you’re strengthening your ability to concentrate.

Right concentration is one of the steps in the Eightfold Path, which is what the Buddha proposes as the path to end suffering. Right concentration involves the concept of samadhi, meaning oneness with the object of meditation. Samadhi is not hyper-focusing on one thing, feeling, or sensation. Samadhi is regarded in Hinduism as the final stage of meditation, so don’t feel frustrated if you fail to comprehend it or realize it in your practice. Rather, I offer this information in hopes to inspire you to look into right concentration, the Eightfold Path and meditation.

If you do, you might find yourself more present in each moment. You might find that you are better at redirecting your attention to the task at hand, to the present. You might find that the prospect of endlessly scrolling through social media loses its appeal; that you feel less drained by technology and more in control of your digital footprint. You might find yourself more self aware. And in the end, I hope you find wisdom and compassion in each moment.