It turns out that college students are becoming hermits, particularly freshmen.
But seriously, what with only 18 percent spending at least two to three hours per day with friends, their lives have become increasingly hermitic, according to a recent study from the University of California, Los Angeles’s Higher Education Research Institute. Compare this figure to 1987, when almost 38 percent of incoming college students socialized at least two to three hours per day. This difference is cause for concern.
The study also showed that today’s college freshmen are more depressed due to spending less time interacting with people, coupled with spending more time on social media. About 10 percent of freshmen reported experiencing frequent depression, which is a four percent increase in only the past five years, and the numbers only seem to be rising.
Of course, depression —and reclusiveness —is no singular problem. 30 percent of all college students report feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function”once in college, and the fact that freshmen constitute almost one-third of this figure is astounding. However, this study is indicative of a larger problem. We have grown numb to the issue. These statistics have just become another number to us, and under the unceasing pressures of college, more students becoming depressed comes as no surprise.
There appear to be three facets that have driven this problem: social media, a lack of empathy and living in a bubble.
Let’s take a look at our use of social media. According to the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, there is a direct link between social media use and depression. Social media allows us to construct an idealized version of ourselves. By plastering our “idealized” lives all over social media, we compel ourselves to live up to these standards. But then when we see others actually live up to these seemingly higher standards, while we are not always so successful ourselves, we feel envy and pressure, perpetuating this vicious cycle. The Princeton Perspective Project aimed to counter this culture by discussing how perfection is not a perceived norm. Through framing failure as a formative experience, they hoped to create a different culture and open community where our flaws and weaknesses were embraced.
Although the issue addressed academic failure, it was completely blind to other forms of insecurities. And while students sharing their own stories of struggle and failure contributed to the dialogue, the project was somewhat ironic. In the profile pictures used to advertise the Perspective Project, students looked, well, perfect. Perhaps the message sent inevitably shifted to at least keeping up a pristine pretense, despite our vulnerabilities.
Then there’s a dearth of empathy and a prevalent inability to understand what others may be going through. In fact, college students have become increasingly less empathetic with time. While we may think that this is attributable to no fault of our own, we can make more of an effort to be more compassionate and understanding of others’ perspectives and experiences. After all, 98 percent of people have the capacity for empathy, but we continue to remain apathetic. Be it someone struggling with mental health or body image issues, posing an opinion different to our own or trying to relate to someone who doesn’t open up much, we need to go beyond superficial conversation or perhaps just listen to him or her. Plus, a simple “hello” and a smile remain underrated in day-to-day interaction, particularly with strangers.
And then there’s the fact that as Princeton students, we are essentially living within our own bubbles in a larger orange bubble. Undeniably, we are all always busy. But everyone else is too, so the burden remains on us to set time aside to see our friends. Most people, if not all, can attest to how common and accepted a practice it has become to give being busy as an excuse to not be able to hang out with someone. If we’re truly unable to set time aside, asking someone to study or grab a meal together makes more efficient use of time. As Mary Oliver points out in her poem “Dog Songs,” “We meet wonderful people, but lose them/in our busyness.” If we don’t see our friends, not only do we adopt a hermitic lifestyle, as aforementioned, but we inadvertently begin to underappreciate our personal relationships amidst a wide array of commitments. It’s healthy, sane and simply necessary to socialize, even for the innately introverted people out there.
It’s time to come out of the Dark Ages —the Age of the Hermit. So put your phone away and ask to spend time with that person you’re texting in person instead, so that both of you get to spend time interacting face-to-face and take a hiatus from interminably sitting in front of a screen.