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Life, fast-forwarded

How does control over digital content change our views on real life?

<p>Running on double speed during a period of asynchronous classes.</p>

Running on double speed during a period of asynchronous classes.

I’ve always been proud of my ability to take notes in class. Weird flex, I know, but it took years of practice to be able to keep up with dense powerpoints and lectures all while discerning what I need to write down and have my handwriting remain — relatively — legible. So as lectures moved online and it became ever more difficult to pay attention, watching lectures at 2x speed became a new challenge to my note-taking prowess. I adapted surprisingly well and took to watching the majority of my lectures at faster-than-normal speed, content with my new “life hack.” Why wouldn’t I be? I was saving time and still receiving all the information necessary for my classes. 

However, when I began taking MDST 2000, “Introduction to Media Studies,” something felt off. Learning about the pitfalls of the digital age while listening to my professor talk at inhuman speeds seemed a little too ironic for my taste. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with speeding up lectures. If anything, it’s become the norm in the age of online classes. My roommate and I often joke that our professors sound as if they’re talking in slow motion during our in-person classes — she’s even taken to watching YouTube videos faster. My friends and I debate our preferred speeds for lectures — double speed is the usual, but if someone speaks particularly fast or if there’s a lot of content on the slides, we prefer 1.5x the usual speed. It’s incredibly rare that we stumble upon someone who watches their lectures at the intended speed. But as sped-up content becomes more widespread, I can’t help but wonder if the increased amount of control we now have over educational content has affected life outside of our laptops. 

In the class, we discussed media theorist Neil Postman’s talk, “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change.” Postman observes that all new technology involves a so-called “Faustian Bargain,” stating that “culture always pays a price for technology.” The idea that human attention spans are decreasing over time is largely contested — however, when I find myself scrolling past 15-second TikToks that I don’t have the patience to sit through, it’s difficult not to believe that all this time online is changing my brain at least a little bit. The involvement of COVID-19 further complicates this concept — can we really be bargaining with new technology if it’s been forced upon us by extraneous circumstances? The ambiguousness of the idea of choosing to use new technology is perhaps not limited to the pandemic. Having grown up during the transition between the television and digital ages, the majority of our generation had no choice but to immerse themselves in technology in order to keep up with our peers, our education and society as a whole.

But if we’ve spent our whole lives, especially the past 13 months, living in a semi-digital existence, what does this mean for our experiences in real life? If my experience — both in media studies and in the pandemic — has taught me anything, it’s that absence makes the heart grow fonder. One of our first big assignments in media studies was to spend a day without screens. Through this assignment, I was able to take a step back and realize that the majority of students don’t use their phones to escape real life but to engage with it. We pass our phones around the dining hall tables to laugh together, texting gives us the ability to hang out with only a moment’s notice and we take pictures to preserve memories. My professors have remarked that students engage exponentially more when we’re able to have classes in-person. The limitations on physical connections have made us even more eager to make the most of the time we spend together. 

So what does this have to do with sped-up lectures? Not much. When I began thinking about this concept for a column, I expected to come to the conclusion that online education was ruining our brains and that we had become the stereotypes “Wall-E” was warning us about. Despite the hours upon hours the world has spent on our laptops in Zoom meetings and watching lectures, we haven’t forgotten how to live our lives in physical spaces. Humans weren’t made to experience our lives through a screen, but while we had to do just that, we didn’t let it change us. Instead, we used technology to make our time together count. So, U.Va., keep on watching your professors at 2x speed. Because the less time we can spend online, the more time we have to spend together. 

Caitlyn Kelley is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at