Column: Scared in stagnation

Dr. Lonnie C. King Jr. visited the Honors College at Georgia State March 11. For those who don’t know, King worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and co-authored “An Appeal for Human Rights,” a document that led to the desegregation of Atlanta and the nation.

Before his presentation, I anticipated something like a visit with my grandparents. I worried that his notions would be dated and that the generational gap would be too vast to overcome. After all, the guy is 78 years old, and 50 years have passed since the Civil Rights Movement.

To my pleasant surprise, King had a sharp grasp of the past as well as the present. He deplored the recently leaked video from the University of Oklahoma, in which members of the Greek community joined voices in a racist ballad. That happened just a day or two before he visited.

King was pessimistic about current race relations, citing the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent acquittal of the police officer responsible. Discussing current groups of student activists, he elucidated a difference between his generation and our generation: We don’t focus.

We don’t take time out of our days to think about our goals and consider the tasks realizing those goals entail. We don’t understand the way power is structured in our communities and governments and this misinforms our actions.

I was dumbfounded to hear him diagnose current social stagnation so acutely. His description was in light of Michael Brown’s death, but it has a broad application. In an age of hashtags and casual “I’m here with my friends” activism to “raise awareness,” certain social efforts are not resulting in the change the some would hope for. I don’t know how many Georgia State students played starfish on the concrete of Library Plaza in protest of institutional racism, but what this lacked in efficacy, it made up for in misplaced pride.

There’s been much research about the negative correlation between technology use and attention-spans. I’m no psychologist, but technology does seem to stimulate us in a way class does not. As a diagnosed day-dreamer, technology is the only thing quick enough to keep up with my thoughts, and it’s the only thing that instantly gratifies my impulses.

How often does silence greet you at the grocery store, or at the coffee shop? Probably not that often. Ever get uncomfortable sitting in silence, in a room by yourself? You realize that your hand has migrated to your pocket.

Your fingers stretch out and you anticipate the familiar alloy of your phone, only to find nothing. You recoil, dumbfounded, and sit up to look at the wall because you don’t know what to do with your eyes. It’s only you now, in a silence of lingering anticipation and unrequitedness.

Institutional racism also lingers, and to Dr. King’s point, we Millennials hold the future in our hands. Hopefully our hands won’t drop it as they inch closer to our phones.