Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 2, 2012

Social Media: Swept up in the crowd

By Emaly Panek
Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — Comfortably curled up in the corner of the couch by my favorite window, opening a new book excites me. It thrills me as I turn to page one, let the words flow off the page, and eat them up.

I sit there, feeling the warmth of the meandering sun as the hours pass with my story, leaving me in a trance until I finish the tale. Resolve is what I long for, and when I'm satisfied, I slowly rejoin the covers and place my now finished adventure on my bookshelf, mentally marking it read.

I spent an entire summer going through this routine, by the end of which a proud list of 23 finished books hung on my wall. My three-month vacation was dedicated to nothing but the quest for knowledge, so my parents affectionately dubbed me "Buddha."

At the rate I was going, I was a shoo-in for valedictorian — I had no higher priority than education and my future success.

Now things are not the same. Not to say that I do not value my education, because surely I do. More, it is that my focus has shifted. Something new, flashy and exciting has caught my eyes. And my ears. And my thumbs.

Social media outlets such as networking sites and texting presently consume me far more than my paperback hobby.

Even at the moment, writing this paper, I have Facebook open and my cellphone within reach. It's unnecessary. Rationally, I know this to be so, yet I let it take up so much of my time. Completely unintentional, for when I first was introduced to the world of technology, I simply assumed that it was a part of growing up.

I am in high school; it is none other than my prerogative to have social media at my fingertips.

With this "right" that I found myself to be so deserving of came more responsibility than I could have ever predicted. Unfortunately, I realize this only in hindsight.

At the beginning, I welcomed social media like a breath of fresh air, sitting idly at the computer for hours on end. I was connecting with my peers, getting out of my "bookworm" and "smart-girl" labels, joining the real world.

Or that's what I thought. Today, I am criss-crossed in an unpadded wooden chair, trying to find the least painful position. It is rather strenuous on your back, dredging through people's lives. I am not sure how long I have been online, or what time of the day it is; perhaps it's noon, or dinnertime even. There is no reason for me to know and I have not bothered looking out the window. The sun that once set my pages aglow is nothing more than an afterthought as I scroll through streams of updates, becoming lost in an ambience of thoughtlessness.

So lost, in fact, that I have neglected homework, forgotten due dates, disregarded the standards I once held dear. Things are spiralling out of control. What I once thought was a friendly way of communication has turned into an enemy. My attention span since creating Facebook has decreased to the point of me having to practically force myself to do anything for more than five minutes at a time. My vocabulary has dwindled in everyday speech. My collection of books has grown no bigger.

Reading helped me to build up these skills. Since the age of 4 I have been working on them, only to throw them away literally with the touch of a button.

Access to social media is not a right, but a responsibility, one that should be taken on with caution, for there is nothing more detrimental than following blindly along with the rest of the crowd. That is exactly what I did.

Honestly, I would love to be able to look someone in the eye and tell him or her that I did not get swept away with the glamour of it all, that I resisted. But I would be lying.

Emaly Panek is a student at Elk Rapids High School.