Touching grass: a tale as old as time
Throughout history, people had exhibited the fortunate tendency to indulge themselves in the physical world. This phenomenon, over time, slowly died out as more people have immersed themselves in their phones and laptops doom-scrolling, or aimlessly wandering around the metaverse with some VR headset contraption. Not to mention, tech billionaires becoming more involved in our private lives. Given these seemingly unfortunate circumstances, I present you with this urgent message: we need to get back to touching grass.
Being told to “touch grass” is meant in an almost literal sense. It is a phrase ironically used on the internet to condescendingly tell someone to spend less time on the internet. The implication is that they spend too much time online to the point of exhibiting delusional, chronically online behavior and need to rekindle their connection with reality.
A report by Exploding Topics found that the average person spends about 6 hours and 58 minutes of screen time in a day. This rate coincides with the number of people who downloaded TikTok during and after the 2020 pandemic. Statista reports that TikTok downloads worldwide reached nearly 672 million in 2022 alone. Along with the rising rates of TikTok downloads was the habit of doom-scrolling that developed within these users. The way TikTok works is that the “For You” page consists of eclectic videos featured on an algorithm that is essentially endless, which perpetuates the user’s habit of mindless scrolling.
An SNL skit aired on February 5th, 2023 titled Fancam Assembly featured Hollywood’s Heartthrob Pedro Pascal. Pascal, playing the teacher, orchestrated an assembly where he questioned his students that made “fan cams” of him and the rest of the school staff. This sketch provides accurate, comedic commentary about this current golden age of the internet and the influences it has on our generation. It comically depicts the disparity of social equilibrium among the young and old generations. SNL cast member Sarah Sherman exclaimed that this was because “three years [of] COVID made us online forever.”
In this fast-paced age of the internet, we have improved our means of communication. We progressed from sending messages to friends on AIM to spewing discourse about tech billionaires on Twitter. We are all aware of the capabilities of social media and the acceleration of ideas conveyed throughout the web that leaves us with convenient grasps of information. The internet and its convenient nature generate a sense of inclination for the average web user. The major issue resulting from this conviction is that it’s causing a rift between ourselves and reality, which imperils our mental health.
Students, diligent as they are in academics, hold the record of having such extended screen time. The wonderful thing about being a student is that most class materials are posted online, thereby increasing screen time. However, should there be an adequate desire to indulge in nature, one should pursue that.
“We have a little grass area where we walk the dogs,” says Hadassah Hermoso as she discusses her job at a pet hospital. She is currently a full-time student studying Animal Science at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa and manages a hefty work-life balance. She compensates for her excessive screen time with her current job occupation.
For the most part, what it takes to touch grass is for one to simply put the device down. The internet can be an overwhelmingly negative space, and should you be exposed to negativity, it is sensible to log off. But social media, especially TikTok, is the sort of atmosphere that begs you to stay online. “I stopped using it, but not entirely. I deleted certain people off my contacts and removed them from other platforms,” says Hermoso.
On the other hand, it is hard for the ubiquity of nature to compete with the overwhelming omnipresence of the internet. “I would say that my work and school are my main priorities. I don't have the time for it, especially with my busy schedule,” says Justin Natividad. He is a full-time student at UH Manoa majoring in computer science. “My classes end late and I usually don’t get home till 5 to 6 o’clock. And I also have to do plenty of schoolwork, which means being tied to my device much longer than I’d normally be,” Natividad said.
Nicole Keim-Fortuno, an assistant professor and counselor at Leeward Community College, discerns the permanence of the internet and social media and how it’s harmfully homogenized within society. While a typical work day for her requires spending the majority of it in front of a screen on Zoom appointments with students and other meetings. She tries to limit her screen time on social media and her Saturdays are completely unplugged.
“It’s a big part of our lives, and it's not going anywhere. Technology and social media, they can all be useful, but it becomes a problem when the person loses control.” She especially notices the issue’s prevalence among her own students where they’d excessively be on social media in what Fortuno describes to be “isolating worlds”.
Most of us as adolescents consider vanity to be a principal of our identity, and that enacts the collective aspiration to share our seemingly stable lives with everyone on the internet. “I have a lot of students disclosing feeling lonely and questioning their self-worth. This leads to depression and it’s not just young people, it can be anybody of any age,” says Fortuno.
This is relative to Hermoso’s experience with social media where she was, “being influenced and seeing other people’s photos and not getting to experience the same things.” Social media is something that codes the internet into something pervasive with pretentiousness, and at this point, it seems nearly innate.
It is important to recognize the distinctions between reality and the internet. Fortuno says, “Social media is heavily distorted. There's a lot of false information. It is important to consider the source and its value to you.” Knowing that most of the things on the internet aren’t real or that serious, it is important to regain those tangible grasps of reality through the simple act of touching grass.
In a report by NASA, the Earth’s climate change crisis is sending us toward impending doom as “plant and animal geographic ranges are shifting, and plants and trees are blooming sooner.” With that being the case, touching grass may temporarily be an option for connecting with reality, but I digress.
Instead, Fortuno recommends those with an addiction to social media to find their own support circle. “Whose in the circle? Is it an immediate family, maybe a couple friends that you trust? And find ways that you could connect with them, in a real human, person to person experience. At the end of the day we are social creatures. We are designed for interaction, and when we can be in person together we can exchange energy. When we’re on social media, there’s some interaction, but it's a very different type of interaction. Give yourself grace and try your best to find ways to connect with your support circle.” In short, we only have people, ourselves, and grass for the time being.