Over the weekend, I was having a conversation with my mother over text when suddenly she wrote, “got to go,” and stopped texting me back. Not only did I secretly wish she had written “g2g” just for the laughs, but I was also confused about why she couldn’t have just responded to me later when she wasn’t busy. As I sat there laughing about the use of “g2g,” it left me thinking about spending endless hours in middle school chatting on AIM until it was time to sign off. Nowadays, I can never just “sign off” anymore without having a guilty conscience about it. Once, I tried to avoid responding to texts for a full day and I wondered more about whether the other person would think I was mad at them rather than focusing on the reason why I decided to do this in the first place: the fact that I simply needed a break from social interaction.
I told some of my friends that I was taking a “social break,” and they immediately thought I solely meant social media. When I explained that I meant texting and limiting the ways I interact with people via technology, there was an air of concern that something awful had happened, causing me to need some personal space. This kind of reaction illustrates the problem — that there’s something taboo about being disconnected in today’s society. Not to sound like a member of the baby boomer generation, but I feel that many people are not mentally present in interactions with others because their attention is being divided in multiple directions at all times. One thing that has become most apparent during my time in college is the decrease in emotional connectivity as I meet more people. After countless hangouts in which the other person wasn’t fully present, divided between our conversation and another via text, I decided that being mentally present when spending time with my loved ones is something that must become a priority in my life, and I must create a way to get that same respect back.
I have defined my social break to mean that I am putting more emphasis on face-to-face contact and learning to detach from my technology-based relationships. The goal of this is to figure out what and whom I value in my life. It may appear selfish, but this allows us to establish what personal improvements we have to make. As a senior, I am witnessing social interactions decrease in my life as job and grad school application deadlines get closer. Having an understanding of this, there is an expectation that I should be more sympathetic to those who may not be as available to others as they would like to be, but this has mainly taught me to let go. With only a few weeks left before I complete my degree and move back home, taking a break from interacting with people might seem counterintuitive. This loss of time, however, has brought clarity about building the relationships in my life that are mutual and contribute to my experience at USC and general well-being. The idea is not to cut people off, but rather to alter my energy in more positive and productive directions.
Though the beginning stages of a social break embarrassingly bring feelings of withdrawal, it can also be a point of relief. There is a sense of guilt and a desire to explain to others that I am not upset with them, but that I need to design my time online the way I want in order for this to be healthy for me. For me, this means that the more I explain to others, the more it becomes about them and not about me. The great thing about taking a social break is the option of choice; the length of the break is subjective, as is what is done with the time. Unfortunately, the closest thing we have to signing off these days is the “Do Not Disturb” iPhone feature. But with everything having a mobile application, we aren’t ever truly off the grid. The realization of my obsession with being available at all times has brought a great deal of negativity into my life and an unnecessary expectation for others to do the same. What I hope to accomplish with this time is a chance to be more productive offline as well as enrich my life with meaningful, present relationships.
Alexa Edwards is a senior majoring in communication. Her column, “In the Meantime,” runs every other Wednesday.