Slave to Society

On Aug. 21, we saw an eclipse. How could we forget? News stations, the Internet, and social media constantly reminded us to mark our calendars. School started 30 minutes earlier so students could attend a special assembly before viewing the eclipse. Students even missed school to experience totality further north. All this fuss for a few minutes of eeriness when shadows looked wrong, the air felt cooler, and eccentricity painted every plant, object, and building.

In English class, a few days before the eclipse, I wrote an essay on Annie Dillard’s “Total Eclipse.” The essence of this powerful, dark, uncanny piece of writing emanates from Dillard’s unique portrayal of the total eclipse. However, it was not said unique portrayal that inspired this column but rather the last paragraph of the essay.

“The real world began there,” Dillard reflected. “We all hurried away. We were born and bored at a stroke…We found our car, joined the highway traffic and drove away. We never looked back.” Pages dedicated to describing the rare total eclipse were forgotten the moment the eclipse had passed. As Dillard joined the traffic-jammed highway, we similarly retreated back indoors where classes resumed and our cyclic lives started again. Perhaps there were a few comments and conversations on the eclipse, but by the next day, the eclipse already seemed like a faded memory. Caught up at work, my dad and many other adults were unable to even see the eclipse. Schoolwork, sports, and other realities of high school life quickly push students forward like ocean waves, endlessly rolling on, never slowing or completely stopping for anything until the waves break ashore.

As seniors begin to apply for colleges, stress levels rise within the class of 2018 but also throughout campus. Juniors struggle to stay afloat in the overflowing workload. Overachieving sophomores in AP Chemistry struggle just to keep up. Freshmen are just getting accustomed to high school life. In this challenging stretch until winter exams, we are tested, not only in the classroom but in our daily lives, to step outside of our individual bubbles. We live in an egotistical society in which our lives consist of habitual motions; we keep our heads down and minds focused on ourselves. We become slaves to our individual problems and lives, missing opportunities and marginalizing our own significance.

Incited by Hurricane Irma, Westminster cancelled school on September 11, 2017. How did you spend the day off? I took advantage of school’s cancellation by catching up on sleep and schoolwork. That night, however, a Facebook post shocked me. I knew it was September 11. I knew the date. However, it had not occurred to me that it was the 16th anniversary of 9/11 – the day 2,977 people died and the day life as Americans knew it changed forever. Every year, teachers would make my classmates and I watch a video, listen to a talk at an assembly, or sit through a moment of silence to remember those who died from the terrorist attacks. However, this year, I did not have school to remind me. School was too busy deciding whether to cancel yet another day of school. My parents were too busy worrying about flooding, fallen trees, and potential traffic the next day. I was too busy taking advantage of the extended weekend. I figured at least social media would have informed me of this significant day through a Snapchat filter, an Instagram post, or a trending hashtag on Facebook. I was shocked at my increased reliance on technology as a link to the “outside world.” Without it, I am oblivious and lost. Advancements in technology allow us to live a more self-centered, individualized lifestyle so detached from everything around us.

Our fast-paced society has steered us away from a healthy community and toward the interest of each individual. People weave in and out of traffic to reach destinations quicker, send countless texts, emails, and phone calls in a matter of seconds, and facetime friends and families overseas like distance is no longer an obstacle. Our increasingly tech-dictated lives incite an increasingly robotic way of life. The mere existence of smartphones, laptops, cars, and even traffic nurtures a more egotistical society in which significant events such as a rare total eclipse or the anniversary of 9/11 appear and disappear on our radars in a blink of an eye. While some blame the people for the undoubtedly materialistic, individual-based society of the 21st century, I see the perpetrator as the environment around us, consisting of elements we cannot control. We cannot stop technological advancements nor can we stop the busy and stressful nature of our lives. If we cannot stop the inevitable, is the matter hopeless?

Endless advancements will continue to create a more efficient lifestyle while involuntarily creating a more narcissistic society. Stress will continue to challenge students and adults alike. Westminster students will continue to obsess over grades as if numbers define who we are. Living in such a fixed lifestyle, we must consciously fight the urge to live in our own restricted bubbles. If not, we will miss opportunities, take the rarities for granted, and lose sight of life’s greater significance.