*TW: Sexual Assault*
At Holy Cross, I have been able to take a number of courses in which I have discussed humanity’s relationship with nature. My freshman year, I was enrolled in a Montserrat seminar called Disenchantment and Alienation. In this class, we talked about how modern society has been marked by rationalizing the disenchantment of the world. We read the works of philosophers like Max Weber, Karl Marx, and Henry David Thoreau to gain insight into the ways in which our world has been sapped of its mysterious qualities and richness. Over the course of the year, we grappled with the most influential theories of the alienated state of modern life and were able to relate ourselves and our own disenchanted lives to the philosophical theories we read by addressing some of today’s most pressing existential and social issues. After taking this seminar, I have only grown more aware of the devastating effect technology in particular has had on our relationships with nature and is one of the biggest root causes of our disenchantment with not just the natural world, but with the people around us as well.
I picked up horseback riding when I was in eighth grade. Back then, you could consider me one of those textbook “horse girl” types, with the Live Love Ride t-shirt and everything. However, horseback riding was a huge passion of mine and taught me many lessons in addition to proper form while riding horses, such as responsibility to others, a sense of connectedness, and an acknowledgment of the importance of nature and the outdoors to one’s mental and physical wellbeing. I have a distinct memory that one day, at the barn, three horses got loose from their pastures, and chaos broke out. Somehow, these three horses had escaped and decided to run through and out of the barn into the parking lot. This lot led to a very busy road, and I knew that the front gate was left open that day because the owner was receiving hay shipments. I envisioned the horses running into the street to their demise, causing a horrific car crash, and I quickly jumped into action, hoping to stop a terrible event in its tracks. My parents and the ethics of my sport had instilled in me a responsibility to always respond immediately and carefully to someone or something in need, so I instantly secured the gate while calling for others to help wrangle the horses.
It is during the years I spent immersed in nature while at the barn and in horse-related activities that I was disconnected from technology but fully connected to the world around me. As of late, I find myself truly questioning the effects of computers, smartphones, social media, and other technology on our innate abilities to connect with each other as humans. I have seen news stories and read articles about people standing idly by while someone close by suffers either in an accident, a health emergency, or a violent assault, not intervening but rather recording the incident in real time — on their phone. I find this current disconnection from reality and humanity absolutely alarming. Recently, I read that a woman was harassed and subsequently raped on a SEPTA train outside of Philadelphia over the course of several train stops without any intervention or help from the other passengers. In fact, at least two people took a video of the attack. Her assault ended when a traffic officer entered the train and physically pulled the assailant off of the woman. However, it is undeniable that more than enough people were present to have easily subdued the perpetrator prior to him doing any harm. Were all these people so fearful for their own safety that they chose not to act? Were those filming the crime voyeurs or did they just think that documenting this heinous act would somehow help? Either way, I am sickened that this violent incident occurred in front of so many people without civilian-driven repercussions.
I sincerely believe that social media use has skewed interpersonal relationships in life. Young people — college students especially — are so focused on how many “friends” they have and the “likes” on their posts rather than having deep conversations and relationships with the people who are right in front of them. This increasing disconnection leads to the aforementioned apathy and lack of humanity displayed in the train incident. I think it’s time for society to address this problem before our ability to empathize and show compassion for others is irreparably damaged or lost for good.