D-log: It's Not You, It's Me
Posted on March 25, 2013
It's Not You, It's Me
D-log: March 24, 2013
My bad. Totally. In the last D-log, I promised to be a more faithful correspondent, and then you didn't hear from me for weeks. Months, technically. It's not that I don't think of you. I'm just a slacker, an easily distracted one. I actually think of you a lot. And talk with you. And watch you perform. And join you in various audiences. And see you at Qdoba on Mondays. And worry about you. And wonder why you park illegally when there is available parking somewhere else on campus.
I usually spend spring break trying not to think about you (nothing personal, really; I just want a break, like the rest of you, from the day-to-dayness of life at Wheaton). But this year, I headed south to Florida and got to watch the women's lacrosse and softball teams play against some tough national competition. Hung out with parents, ate a pulled pork sandwich from the concession stand at one field and drank down a huge Shag-a-Delic from Planet Smoothie at the other field (and enjoyed both). Spent a few days at a conference down there as well, gathering with about 5000 other professionals who work with college students to…talk about you. I hope you're flattered.
Actually, I wanted to mention one particular thread of reading and learning I've been doing lately, courtesy of a book called "Generation on a Tightrope," by Arthur Levine and Diane Dean, who were speakers at the conference. It is a book based on thousands of surveys and hundreds of focus groups with current college students, faculty and administrators, and their findings and interpretations are pretty interesting. One particular topic in the book is the impact of social media and electronic communications on your lives. Levine and Dean assert that college students today have weaker face-to-face social skills than previous generations because you tend to do more of your communicating online—Facebook, texting—and on the phone instead of face-to-face, where the ability to read non-verbal cues is learned. Do you think that's the case?
One of the images that the authors mentioned hearing described over and over from people who work at colleges is an image I see here at Wheaton: a class ends, students pack up their stuff, walk out of the room, and then, instead of talking to one another, immediately reach for their phones and check messages or call someone. It is not uncommon on our campus, or most others, to see a pack of students walking together but all communicating with unseen parties. When the authors discussed this, there were a lot of nods around the room, including one from me. But the more I thought about it, the more concerned I got, and here's why: many of you…most of you…are paying a good chunk of change to attend Wheaton. Part of what you are paying for is to be in the company of other people who attend Wheaton. The relationships you build with those people are as much a part of this experience as what your professors offer, what your coaches and trainers provide. Relationships take time and effort to build, and you can't (even if you think you can) engage meaningfully in those connections when you have never disengaged from relationships with your old friends, or your family. Or at least moved those relationships to a different place in your life.
I'm not suggesting you jettison your high school friends or your parents (I would probably get an earful from your folks if I did). But there is a limit to the number of people you can be really connected to at one time, and when you come to college, you need to make some space for new connections. Levine and Dean said that two out of five students—41 percent—are in touch with parents by phone, email, text or visit at least daily. One in five is in contact three or more times a day.
The authors call this contact with people who live elsewhere "the new tribalism," and write that students—you—are "alone together." But they don't completely critique this habit, because many of you, in surveys, do indicate you feel a sense of community on your campuses (61 percent). But the authors worry, as do I, that you are not learning the necessary skills of face-to-face communication, resolving conflict, seeking out differences with others. If you are mad at someone via text, you can just stop texting. If you have a conflict with someone in person, you have to (ostensibly) work it through, which is uncomfortable, but necessary if it's someone you work with, live with, play on a team with.
Anyway, enough of the academic stuff. It's a good book, and I'd love to have a group of students read it and tell me what they think, but I know that's probably not realistic. I guess I'll just leave it at this: maybe once a day, instead of reaching for your phone, notice someone nearby, and have a conversation with them. If you don't know them, introduce yourself. In the yoga tradition, Be Here Now. As the Dorchester, MA-born novelist Dennis Lehane wisely said, “Happiness lies in the person sitting beside you and your ability to talk to them. Happiness is clear-headed human interaction and empathy.”
Of course, you can feel free to disagree with me on this (like you need an invitation to disagree with me. Ha!) Send me a note. I'll share it in the next D-log, which I promise will come sooner than this one did.
Seniors! You'll be getting an email from me soon because it's about time for me to begin the process of practicing the correct pronunciation of your names for commencement. That's a sure sign that spring is here. Sorry about the weather, though. I was hoping for some warmth by now myself, but apparently we didn't get the purchase order for sunny, 70 degree days in on time, so delivery will be late. But soon. Have your flip-flops ready to go.
See you around the Dimple, Wheaton tribe.