Accept the Challenge

By Guest Contributor

We are the generation that is the least aware of how technology is changing our lives. Our gadgets, and the virtual realities that we can enter through them, can make us forget why we need to be present in the here and now, but only if we allow them to.

I am writing in response to Cheswayo’s brilliant piece ‘Check Your Authenticity’ which appeared in this newspaper three weeks ago. In his piece, he attributes the cause of the inauthentic interactions that go on between some people here at the school to the fact that “we are too preoccupied with what is going on in our lives to ever notice others.” He proposes that we take a personal initiative to “get out of [our] bubbles and embrace the larger one” by demonstrating our eagerness to connect with other people through our actions, not just our thinking.

I cannot agree with him more. First, though, I want to pose a question. Why are we too preoccupied with ourselves here? Is it to preserve the imaginary aura of perfection that we’ve created for ourselves on our Facebook profiles? Or should we put the blame on the devices that we carry around with us everywhere that give us instant access to the outside world? But couldn’t it be something even more fundamental than any of the above, that we are simply “very afraid people,” as Cheswayo posited?

I argue that although all of the above are part of the problem, a factor that we often overlook is that many of us do not yet realize how precious these four years are as a window in our lives for us to challenge ourselves socially and intellectually. We need strong support from the faculty to do that — which Middlebury does provide, and is why we should maintain a good relationship with our professors — as well as constant reminders from our friends. Friends are not merely a safety net that we can fall back onto every now and then and especially in times of desperation, but they are people who love and care for us enough to challenge us to become who we truly are and more.

Electronic gadgets can’t do that for us, so they are not our friends. (And following through with this logic, we should rethink our relationship with our friends that behave like our electronic gadgets.) Yet, some people spend more time with their electronic counterparts than with their friends, even though these gadgets can do nothing to understand and care for us as complex, constantly in flux, human beings. Why should we settle for a less-than-personable world when we have such kind and stimulating people all around us? A loyal friend has a memory storage larger than all of our email inboxes combined, and a good listener and observer is a better search engine than Google or Yahoo! or Bing. The ultimate goal of using any sort of electronics must be to foster stronger human connections, not to retreat from thereof.

At the same time, these four precious years are not just for our own personal growth, but they are also for us to engage with our civil responsibilities. Higher education occupies a very unique role in the domain of public discourse because any respectable educational institution that promotes a culture of integrity and excellence on their campus must also be both a bearer and a practitioner of truth. In a world that is so full of ideological interests and corporate greed, colleges and universities have an irreplaceable voice which members of these learning communities must seize on and aptly utilize.

How better to realize this responsibility and power than by working side by side with the people we find around us here? In our own personal effort to bring about equality and justice to this community and beyond, what can be more enjoyable — not to mention more effective — than seeking positive change through making new friends and forming new alliances?

Although we are the least well-equipped generation of all to handle technology in our lives, none before ours has enjoyed the same level of access to such a diversity of people as we do. This wonderful clash of cultures, perspectives, faiths, and values can help us to better understand ourselves, and if we preoccupy ourselves with the right amount of technology at the right time, we can even fulfill our civil responsibilities with our friends here like no previous generation.

ADRIAN LEONG ’16 is from Hong Kong

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