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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators

Making real human connections

Why the power of conversation matters

By Aashish Palikhey, Vista Del Lago High School | May | June 2021
As our days fly by, it seems like everything around us is moving at the speed of light. We quickly swipe through our phones, rapidly double-tapping posts. We walk to class with our heads angled down, hypnotized by the short, quick content that floods our feeds. We mind our business and just keep walking, ignoring the faces we see every day by refusing to make eye contact. It feels almost like being a product in a machine; we get used to being pressed and molded into a cookie cutter form like everyone else down the conveyor belt. A routine that, oftentimes, sucks the humanity out of a student body, making it more and more difficult to connect with our peers with whom we share our hallways.
As the president of the student body at Vista Del Lago, my one goal is to create a lasting culture that will endure the tests of time and thrive on campus long after my departure. However, to develop and enrich such a climate, we, as student leaders, need to be one with our peers. We must be familiar with the everyday struggles of each and every community that make up our campuses while doing everything we possibly can to reach across the aisle. But there’s one complex hurdle that blocks our path: social media.
The purpose of social media is to connect people with each other. In doing so it has promoted advocacy, education and new ideas all over the world. A perfect example was the advocacy amidst George Floyd’s murder, all of which was possible through the vast waters of social media. Peaceful demonstrations were organized on massive scales, demanding justice, and all during a global pandemic. However, as brilliant and revolutionary as social media may be, it’s a double-edged sword.
Social media is designed to exploit our brains. Have you ever noticed why short pieces of content like TikToks and Vines blew up in the first place? The quick snackable content gives us more bang for our buck. Why read for 10 minutes to feel good, when I can go on my phone and watch a dozen 10-second clips that make me laugh? This trick shortens our attention spans. Additionally, seeing people hit the “like” button releases dopamine, the “feel-good” hormone. Some natural ways we get dopamine are through eating tasty foods, exercising or engaging in a relaxing hobby, but it’s also caused by addictive substances like meth and cocaine. This uncanny parallel between drug addiction and social media reveals the negative implications of social media use, as we see so many of our friends race and splurge for likes. Moreover, it also has a disastrous effect on the mental health of teens. The correlation between depression among teens (especially in girls) and the rise of media is indisputable. What we’re seeing when we look at the flashy lifestyles of “influencers’’ is a fake world filled with highlight reels. It encourages us to compare our normal lives with the exuberant ones of celebrities by setting up our own facade and being unauthentic to ourselves.
Whether it be conflicts escalated through online exchanges or strong feelings of self-doubt fed by unattainable body standards, the daily life of a high schooler is laced with these troubles. Despite these struggles, I’m optimistic about our future. To show you why, we must delve into a time before COVID-19.
To provide some context, on Wednesdays my school has flex days that push back our start time to 9 a.m., as opposed to 8 a.m., to accommodate teacher meetings in the morning. Unfortunately, late starts do not apply to zero periods, so we zero period students still have to make it to class at 7 a.m. The only “upside” is that from 8 to 9, we don’t have class and are free to wander around until first period begins. I usually try to find a spot where I can get extra work done, snacking on the strawberry Pop-Tarts served during breakfast.
Why read for 10 minutes to feel good, when I can go on my phone and watch a dozen 10-second clips that make me laugh?
One flex day, I was sitting on a planter near the center of campus about to take some Cornell notes for history. I set up my paper with the margin, flipped open my textbook, and was about to start reading when a classmate from zero period decided to take a seat beside me. We weren’t close friends. I knew him and he knew me, but there wasn’t much else to it. I didn’t expect him to stick around while he could’ve hung out with his friends, but he decided to stay. We engaged in small talk about how our days were going, material we were working on in class and football. Slowly, this small talk grew into a meaningful conversation about life. Our pasts. Our present. Our hopeful futures. Along the way there were accounts of sexual abuse, addiction, poverty, social exile and unstable households. This conversation became as real and authentic as one could get. I sat there with the pen in my hand, unable to write a single word, captivated by the humanity in his words. I saw a friend in need, struggling to conform into the cookie-cutter mold that the machine had been trying to force him into. I listened and shared some of my own experiences to build connections and accommodate the ebb and flow of our conversation. Fifty minutes slipped by and it was time to head on to class. Before we embarked on our separate paths, he told me how he never thought that he would be sitting with me and finding so many things that we could relate about. And before we left, he told me, “Thank you.”
That changed my life. Our conversation was his desperate cry for help, and my ears and comfort provided him a safe haven from all of the chaos. It was a moment to escape false idols and false selves, and showed the power of authentic human interaction. I got to see through the highlight reels and filters and see the truth. The struggle. The pain. The isolation. The baggage. The hope.
Since that fateful day, that classmate and I haven’t talked. Rather, there’s a mutual acknowledgement of the understanding we have for each other. A mutual respect for each other’s perseverance and a bond that transcends the “likes” and “shoutouts.” A human connection brought up by real human interaction. As we further integrate technology into our lives, I know that there will never be anything quite as powerful as a real conversation. A revelation that has inspired me to change the world. One conversation at a time.
Aashish Palikhey attends Vista Del Lago High School in the Moreno Valley Unified School District.
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