Fall 2016 Winning Essay

By: Shashank Rao

Out of tune. Uninformed. Spoiled. Superficial. The litany of criticisms excoriating Millennials is endless. “Why do you always have to be looking down at your phone?” older generations ask, “look up!” But as for the question at hand: have social media and smartphones made me a more distracted person? Yes, I believe it has; however, it is important to note that this “distraction” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

While I concede there is some credence in previous generations’ claims that social media has become a point of obsession for some, one must remember that social media is multi-faceted of which the so-called “selfie culture” is only one part. Social media serves as a platform for public discourse on matters of race, gender politics, domestic and international affairs, etc. And with more and more news media companies expanding their digital presence with apps and social media, my smartphone can toss me down the rabbit hole of investigating and understanding important issues; some may call this “distraction”, I call it “becoming aware of the world around me”.

One of the pivotal moments in my life both on and off-line was the case of the death of Michael Brown. The country was set ablaze with heated arguments about race and police brutality—so to was social media. My smartphone, with its news and social media applications, became an expansive library where I could sift through thousands of sources; a gaping auditorium where I could listen to lectures on the subject; or a Roman forum where people could come forward and share their personal experiences with the issue. For the first time, I was able to really dig deep into the reality of race in America. The ordeal fomented in me one of the greatest passions of my life: combating racial inequality in the United States and I credit the richness of the various opinions I found on social media with laying the foundations for my understanding of the weighty subject. The sheer amount of information being exchanged at the time may have “distracted” me (I spent a lot of time researching), but I believe it was warranted for I emerged a stronger, smarter, more informed individual.

Smartphones and social media have helped me look at the world through both a professional and personal lens. Smartphones and social media aren’t cluttering up the news: they’re consolidating it so that it fits in the palm of your hand. Though the flow of all that information can be overwhelming or “distracting,” what we’re actually witnessing is one of the greatest shifts in the way humans consume media and culture. Their smartphone is as revolutionary as Gutenberg’s press and I’m all the better for it. So next time when it seems like I’m tuned out, know that really, I’m more tuned in than you think.