Today I came to a hasty realization.
There are 50 days until my next semester of college begins without all of the amazing Knoxvillians I love so much. This frustrating yet intriguing weather, my compassionate and supportive teachers, my newfound friends in Pong, my oldest friends from my first day of classes; it will all be fundamentally nonexistent to me for six months.
I find myself torn by my emotions. As I prepare to set sail for what I hope will be the best experience of my life, I also prepare to leave best friends who have recently rocked my world.
When studying abroad, there is normally a constant connection for Wi-Fi. But since I am going to be boat-ridden for the Semester at Sea program, I have no real way to connect till in port. Without the Internet, I will essentially be isolated from all I've known.
Why is the thought of living in the moment without the ability to Instagram or tweet every waking second of my day so terrifying to me?
Imagine living without the Internet for just one week.
America is this kind of machine. We run off electronics and the Internet. Not just to get us to and fro, or for entertainment, but to build our self-esteem and self-worth. I often find myself comparing how many likes were accumulated on my Instagram photos versus the pictures of my friends, or how many friends I have on one form of social media or another.
This constant pattern of placing so much time and value into these outlets of communication has become a serious issue in my life and the life of many of the people who surround me daily.
It is said Americans from the age of 18 to 34, on average, spend about 3.8 hours per day viewing social media. That does not include the standard amount of time humans spend sleeping and eating, which already requires a large chunk of each day's potential.
I am preaching to myself by saying Americans are so self-consumed that we lose the real purpose and depth of relationships. But I'm doing my preaching in the Beacon for a reason – so someone else might take note.
The social comparison that occurs when we see someone receive more 'likes' than us on social media creates grudges and unnecessary self-pity. We also insist on spending countless hours 'stalking' other people and sizing ourselves up against their social media avatar.
My parents always make fun of me for tweeting and Instagram-ing everything that happens on our family vacations (typically because it's always hysterical), but I am starting to realize the issue they are expressing.
Nothing is private anymore. Instead, the whole world knows I just ate a chip and it was good. If I am not tweeting some pointless blurb about my food, then I am scrolling until there are no more tweets to load. Meanwhile, I waste an opportunity to converse face-to-face with the people that are physically sitting in the room with me.
Where is the depth? If everyone is aware of the awesome date you went on with your boyfriend, then there's no intimacy. The cyber world knows all about your life, but who really knows you as a person?
As we have become more reliant on our smartphones and computers for keeping up with relationships, we've become shallow and lazy. I can stay in my house and text a friend about her life instead of actually making the necessary effort to go meet her in person.
But recognizing the time and place for disclosing information is chivalrous, an intrinsic part of life as a human being. It most definitely is not always the time for the Internet.
Next time you want to take 30 seconds to tweet or Instagram your awesome experiences, think about how many of your so-called "followers" are genuinely important to you.
Annie Blackwood is a junior in communications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.