The Necessity of Self-Awareness: Taking a Step Back

One of my biggest take aways from our discussion with Latanya Sweeney, former CTO of the FTC, was that we humans tend to get caught up in things. There is a basic human tendency that exists to take a myopic view of situations. In prehistoric times, this was vital for survival—we needed to forage and hunt for food, find shelter, etc.

Fast forward to 2017 and this tendency still exists, but it is magnified. Instead of worrying about finding food or other basic human needs, we focus on technology. More specifically, we get caught up in the minutia of social media, sucked in by the endorphin rush of a notification.

As social media platforms and our digital personas have grown with the advent and expansion of new platforms—Facebook, Instagram (“rinstas” and “finstas”), Snapchat, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Reddit, etc.—our emotional investment in these platforms has grown as well. A perfect example of this was brought up in class with Snapchat streaks. When you send and receive a Snapchat from a friend for multiple days in a row, a number appears next to their name, indicating that you have a streak. Yet, this has translated into superficial conversations—if you can even call a selfie with a dog filter a conversation—with the sole purpose of keeping these streaks alive. Often, you will see a Snapchat user who maintains more than a dozen streaks. These connections are empty.

But if these connections are meaningless, why do we keep these streaks alive? What is the point? It is because we have become too invested in maintaining our digital personas and superficial digital connections. It’s a building avalanche of sunk cost.

I am not saying that I am not guilty of this. At times, I, too, find myself caught up in social media.

However, the key is to step back and reflect on our behaviors on the Internet. I think that reflection, like the discussion that we had today, is essential to remaining grounded in this digital age. We need to recognize that sometimes we need to turn the screens off and allow ourselves to be bored, or uncomfortable, or lonely. These feelings are essential elements of the human condition and essential elements of our sanity.

Through reflection, we can realize that one tweet, or post, or picture is not the most important thing in the world. Maybe this can make us all happier, too.


  1. profsmith

    November 22, 2017 @ 2:56 am


    Great attitude. The more I learn about how people really invested in social media platforms use these platforms (clearly not me), the more amazed I become. I’m glad to read about your ability to step back. I wonder, however, why turning your screen off means something negative — to be bored, uncomfortable, or lonely. What happens if you think positive thoughts the next time you turn your screen off? I’m curious to hear if it changes the way you and your friends start to look at the experience?

  2. Jim Waldo

    November 26, 2017 @ 9:37 pm


    A thoughtful post…

    I like the trend I’ve seen towards “digital detox”– time spent away from any connection to the internet. Whether just a couple of hours or a couple of days, it can be good to only interact with the real (as opposed to the virtual) world. I get a bit of that every spring, when my teaching schedule is insane enough that I sometimes don’t get a chance to check text messages or email for seven or eight hours during the day.

    What I find interesting is how others react to this. Email was invented as an asynchronous communication mechanism, but people expect you to respond to their email immediately (or sooner). I find this expectation one of the more irritating things about email. I try not to live by others expectations, but training others that I won’t immediately respond (and that it isn’t a sign of disinterest or disrespect) is something that is a constant battle.

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