Technology has simplified our lives to a great extent. With a special focus on the Internet and social media, instant messaging, chat and regular… no, constant updates, these have made even the average Joe a walking encyclopedia. I however have mixed feelings about this development. I like reminiscing about a time when we weren’t so digitally busy maintaining virtual connections. In this article, I reminisce some more and draw attention to the ill effects of new technology.
The Internet Boom with due credit to Google search has simplified matters since its inception. Today, one can be well informed about anything and everything right from the spelling of ‘multilingualism’ to causes of liver cirrhosis. However, over-reliance is my main concern.
For example, my friend Tanish used Google to find out how old he’d be in 2054. He could’ve calculated the answer himself but wanted to be sure, ‘just in case’. To my mind, this incident talks volumes about extreme dependence created by technological devices. Nicholas Carr, author of ‘The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains’ (2010) echoes similar sentiments remarking that search dependence can indeed worsen our self-reasoning abilities.
Although the Internet is a popular source of information, this information possesses a high risk of being biased and may lead users to treat obtained information as inherently veritable. Thus, if Search tells 19 year-old Tanish that he’d be 71 in 2054, it must be true because of ‘the-Internet-is-never-wrong’ ideology. Carr exposes such thinking as the future of societal reasoning, indeed a worrying proposition.
Digitalization is a pertinent issue in this discussion. I wrote in longhand at school, whether for homework, assignments or finals. Laptops were for project work that was submitted as hard copies. At my first semester in university, I learnt the struggle of submitting all work in typed format. While I don’t have issues with typing, I do miss writing.
We don’t write anymore, we type—a written assignment is a precious ‘document’ for the student and feared by examiners owing to legibility issues. It saddens me to think that we might perhaps not need pens or paper in the future, in our pursuit of a paperless world.
Digital note-taking fares poorly when compared to longhand writing. As proven by researchers at Princeton University, typing verbatim is not learning but ‘procuring’ information. Writing allows one to sift through a stack of information and separate grain from chaff, a process that constitutes a major part of learning as advocated by the Princeton study. Unfortunately, the allure of technological convenience is stronger than a horde of scientific findings.
My daily commute on public transport convinces me that as a society, we are engaged in proving how tech-savvy we are. Be it work, music, relationship problems, self-admiration or killing time, my fellow commuters invariably turn to the device as a solution.
I watch committed office-goers furiously typing away beside a lady pretending to read on her phone when her expressions clearly indicate finding the perfect selfie for Snapchat. Tech-fever has not spared seniors either. On a quest to not seem outmoded, many flip through different apps and idle away the ride re-seeing old photos or marking grandchildren’s photos as favorites.
While there isn’t anything particularly troublesome about the aforementioned activities, I sense a certain disconnectedness developing among people in public. Similar to a robotic world, each individual is preoccupied with technology for his needs. We are gradually losing a spirit of human interaction, our most fundamental trait. Tech-industry veteran Linda Stone cautions against this trend geared towards fostering relationships with screens rather than people:
“It ultimately can feed the development of a kind of sociopathy and psychopathy.”
Surprisingly, technology (read: social media) may not be as useful as we take it to be.
For example, Summer Fest 2016 at Monash was mainly publicized through social media, even Moodle. Large posters greeted students as they entered the Menzies and onward towards Campus Centre. Despite this, in a Moodle Poll, a majority of students said they had never heard of Summer Fest. As did many first years, taken aback on realizing about the event. This is the case with many individuals today—we have much information available but barely know about it. These apparent gaps in our information systems might be linked to an information overload. Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner says:
“The problem is humans can’t keep up with all the technology they have created…It’s becoming unmanageable by the human brain.”
I perceive that we are more connected through social networks than ever before but looking closely, the quality of these networks is poor. We are friends with people, but may not talk to them if seen at a cinema. A Facebook group cannot offer the warmth of strong friendship experienced on coffee dates. Or, pertaining to matters of the heart, Tinder swiping is no match for cultivating real time relationships. Netflix (with or without the ‘chill’) is the current rage, with memes poking fun at our ironic tendency to intentionally seek an introverted lifestyle despite multiple options for socializing. To put it simply, we are losing the social bit of our description as social animals.
Moreover, there exists a very real problem of social media addiction with its effects hampering relationships, costing people their education, jobs and marriages. This explains the rise of technological detox and rehabilitation and even a National Day of Unplugging on the first Friday of March.
A close friend Anam narrates her experience of a psychological counseling for FB addiction, which explains the intensity with which social media exerts control over our lives:
“Most people thought I was weak due to my addiction. It is a crippling reality but there isn’t much awareness about it… I didn’t want to check my Facebook notifications but I felt anxious if I didn’t… Behavioral therapy taught me that the mind is a meek follower as well as a headstrong dictator—for complying with as well as rebelling against one’s wishes.”
Technology, as illustrated above, is a double-edged sword with the power to benefit or disadvantage, uplift or ruin, enlighten or misguide. We cannot stop technological evolution but can modify our use of this development. The choice is ours. It has always been ours.