A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of conversing with a UT alumna of the School of Pharmacy (class of '65) at the Quacks Bakery on Duval and 43rd street one evening. A very pleasant figure, she saw that my friends and I were UT students and talked for an hour and half about the "good ole' days of UT. Despite her admiration for the ambitions and drive of the current UT student population, she did have a few critiques on how campus has changed. Along with stern opinions on today's fashion, she also felt that the current UT student population had lost its sense of one another. While UT in the 60s had homecomings and campus wide dances, it was easier to spot a familiar face in the crowd. A glance at campus today or any university campus for that matter, it's easy to see that students have defaulted to their technology in social environments. From students with headphones plugged into their ears on their commute to class to the zombie "texter" slouching through the shaded sidewalks of busy Speedway; the simple hello or howdy to a fellow student is a gesture of the past.
I was motivated to take action and I tried a little social experiment of my own. The goal: receive at least 15 "hello/greetings" from other people upon passing them on the GDC staircase during the school week. I performed the experiment for 10 minutes and got a great deal of exercise hiking up those stairs, back and forth. Through each cycle of walking up and down 4 winding flights of stairs I even changed up my greeting from "Hello" to "Howdy" to "How's it going" in the hopes of getting a return gesture. To my despair, out of 27 attempts to recognize someone's presence, I only received 20 gestures back. Perhaps my favorite lack of a response was a simple "glare of defense" at me such as when you throw water at a cat. However I figured this isn't just an issue with CS students, surely it's just a generational cultural attribute. So, I took my experiment outside and walked back and forth along speedway, and got more exercise. I found that out of 34 people I passed, only 21 said hello. A good number of them had their headphones in their ears or were consumed in their phones; hence their ability to see the outside world was hindered.
This got me thinking though. On a comparative note, CS kids actually are social!! After all more people were willing to say hello back to me in our community than the greater campus. However, I was still unsettled by the percentage of students on the staircase who did not say hello. We mention the word community at this school quite frequently to describe our campus, however at times it's easy to wonder where that community is. Perhaps we default to the convenience of technology too many times though our daily routine.
Although I typically describe myself as a pretty lo-tech guy compared to my peers, as I am usually the last to update my gadgets and I even make pasta with a manual crank, I too find myself consumed in the technological dependence that millennials are always criticized for. I mean, how can you not look at your phone? It has everything you could possibly want on it! A key map? What's that? I have Google maps. The newspaper? Too bulky. I have the Wall Street Journal App. Conversations with the person next to me? I have Facebook, and I can like the photo of an old friend that I never talk to anymore but I really admire their "selfie." Defaulting to my technology has connected me to the world, however I can sadly say that defaulting to my technology has disconnected me from those around me. Hence, I've made a pledge to hide my phone in my backpack through out the day and take the initiative to talk to someone new everyday. After all, its the people that make a community so great.
Here at UTCS, we have a reputation and legacy of being one of the best places to be a computer science student. As a smaller tight-knit community, we pass the same familiar faces everyday. With such a young department, we are the student population that is building the culture of UTCS for generations to come. So whether you're strolling to your first class of the day or about to retire from a long day's workload, put down your phone and say "Hi" to your neighbor. Your day will be a lot better, I guarantee it!