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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Don't trade comprehension for consumption

Students enjoy the nice weather on the Polk Place quad on March 2, 2022.

Over the past several years, the internet has evolved from a platform you can visit (and subsequently leave) to a far more pervasive entity — one whose presence permeates every inch of our social fabric. Its reach is extensive, seeping into everything from contemporary friendship to political discourse. In theory, everyday people are now afforded access to more than ever before — more ideas, more information, more people. This holds true, but sometimes I cannot help but wonder if something intended to facilitate human connection is leaving us lonelier than ever. 

We’ve all been there before: you emerge from a mildly satisfying doomscrolling session, hours have passed you by and you’re lethargic — drained of energy. It feels like you’ve been constantly connecting these past few hours, but you haven’t left the confines of your bedroom. Don’t get me wrong, the gratification is sweet — but it is quick to fade and leaves you wanting more. There are reasons for this: algorithms function to reinforce our pre-existing beliefs, inundating us with content that we are more likely to interact with and amplifying divisive content to provoke outrage. I’m left pondering whether my opinions are truly my own, or if I, too, am merely parroting tropes fed to me by an algorithm.

Perhaps part of the problem is that nuance often cannot be conveyed in 280 characters of text or 45 seconds of video. Often, this brevity only allows for captivation, provocation and outrage, with little room remaining for subtlety. This has broader implications for our cognition overall — we don’t want to engage if we are not immediately enthralled and swiftly satiated. This means that consuming long-form content, content designed to inform, not entertain, is fraught with difficulty. Creating it is even more unfathomable. I am equally guilty of this; I’ve picked up my phone innumerable times since I started writing this column. When I listen to long podcasts or read articles, I can almost feel my mind stretching to stay rapt and attentive. It would be so much easier, I know, to scroll on X or TikTok and engage with content I’m sure to instantly consume. 

The issue with this is that the most gratifying things take time and effort, and they most certainly cannot be brought about by a simple swipe. The streamlined nature of technology is seductive, but challenge is inherent to fulfillment. The ability to have lengthy conversations, to understand complex subjects, to work towards long-term goals — these are not capacities we should be willing to exchange for instant gratification. The very best bits of human interaction cannot be unearthed from within our smartphones, and thank goodness for that.

If any part of this resonated with you, I ask you to join me in reclaiming our minds from the internet. Yes, modern technology feels omnipresent and inescapable, but we don’t have to surrender our autonomy. I challenge you not to shy away from content you disagree with. Rather, immerse yourself in it and interrogate your own convictions. I also invite you to periodically devote your entire attention to something for an extended period of time. This can be a book, movie, album, newspaper article — anything, really, as long as it receives the entirety of your attention. It will not be the most amusing thing you’ll ever do, but through a longer commitment, I think you’ll emerge more fulfilled and content than you could in 45 seconds.


@dthopinion |

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