We are in the midst of an age of technology, and though we may feel like this has been so for a long time, in truth it has only been a couple of decades. We have been able to bridge amazing distances with the flick of our wrists, and the web has allowed anyone who wishes to publish their thoughts, opinions, and feelings do so as widely as they see fit. But we are far from understanding the manors of which technology can foster the distances, the ways it can hurt us as much as it helps. I am not, nor will I ever claim that the vast tools technology has allotted us have not lead to fruitful years, that is as undebatable as the fact that is will surely lead to many more fruitful years. But I will say that it is beginning to affect us in unpredicted ways, small tendencies that are turning into deep rooted social norms. Tendencies that hinder your social prowess and your mental clarity. Side effects of technology that lead to more restless sleep, lack of creativity and problem solving skills, stress, and a less effective memory. All of these “side effects” can be almost completely eradicated simply through awareness, which is what I wish to stress. Awareness of the effects technology has on your mind and emotional state that can hinder your mental clarity. When I say “technology,” I mean the ones we use day to day, the most commonly used, unavoidable technology. I mean cellphones, computers, the GPS in your car, the increasingly ubiquitous tools that we are beginning to forget how to go a day without relying upon.
At the end of the day, settling down to sleep, are there any of us who do not check our phone a last time or browse the internet for a few minutes, or something to that effect? Maybe a few. I will admit, I am not one of them. But the glow of our screens subtlely stimulates our brain activity. It is slight; you will not be left feeling wide awake, but it will obstruct your sleep, making it more difficult to reach the deeper levels of sleep, and more difficult to drift into the first stages as well. It can leave you with a sleeping disorder, and can also lead to depressive symptoms and stress. But most of us already know that this is true. An article from tidally.com contains this more technical explanation; “Our study shows that a two-hour exposure to light from self-luminous electronic displays can suppress melatonin by about 22 percent,” says associate professor Mariana Figueiro. “Stimulating the human circadian system to this level may affect sleep in those using the devices prior to bedtime.” It messes with your circadian rhythm (which is just an ominous way to say “sleep schedule”) by suppressing the energy you get from The Sun. A much less perturbing but no less fascinating side effect of routine use of technology is how it can affect your memory. Browsing through Facebook, Twitter, Pintrist or something like it can become something of an information overload, and make it harder to file away the important information. Your brain tends to have a difficult time knowing what to store and what to disregard, essentially. As stated here by Dr. Anthony Wagner, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford; “’When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal. That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.’ Dr. Anthony Wagner, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford, said in a written statement. “That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.“The brain is deeply complicated in the way it processes and stores information, and, apparently, it is a relatively fragile equation. As stated above, the screen itself can overstimulate and mess with your sleep schedule. The information itself though, the wide variety of content on the most commonly visited sites of the internet, can negatively impact your ability to recall a piece of the information from this wave of it. This perpetuates by our ability to so easily return to those pages and pick out the specific piece of information, leading our brain to believe that we do not need to store it. A dependance is built by this “spoon feeding,” as it has been nicknamed. Decades ago, if you wanted to research a question thoroughly, you would go to the library and comb through the plethora of books until you found the piece of information you are looking for. I am not denying the wonderful help it is to just google the question and find the answer that way, but I will confidently claim that you are much more likely to remember and be able to effectively recall the information if you had to pursue it in a more long winded manor. Psychologically, this is leading us to believe that things like this are easy, leading to the likelihood of emotional unpreparedness to increase. Another reaction spoon feeding can illicit is the weakening of ones imagination. Now this is one issue that borders on heartbreaking in my opinion, or soon will if left unmonitored for a few years longer. With the ease of looking up what we want to know at the click of a mouse, we are getting more likely (though not everyone all the time, but certainly more often) to blindly accept facts rather than interpret them independently for ourselves. The internet can, in our own mind, inhibit the practicality our creative contributions. Children are more susceptible to this than adults, but the issue spans the generations exposing themselves to the tools. Children are more susceptible to all of the negative effects on technology;. they are likely to have their physical, cognitive, and social developments affected, but the effects on children are too vast to list, and a different topic altogether. Spoon feeding can affect adults and teenagers just as much, in different ways; with the older groups, it is not as deep set, for they are in not in early stages of development. Now this is It is fascinating in a tragic kind of way, that such a helpful resource can hinder as much as it helps. I have an example for spoon feeding that may seem to specific to be relevant at first glace, but I assure that it epitomizes the way I see this issue. It is from an assigned reading of ours, called Personal Dynamic Media;“A composer could hear his composition while it was in progress, particularly if it were more complex than he was able to play. He could also bypass the incredibly tedious chore of redoing the score and producing the parts by hand. Learning to play music could be aided by being able to capture and hear one’s own attempts and compare them against expert renditions. The ability to express music in visual terms which could be filed and played means that the acts of composition and self-evaluation could be learned without having to wait for technical skill in playing.” Now this is phrased as a positive development, but I see it as negative, and, as it happens to be in relation to a field I am somewhat practiced in, I feel the need to elaborate. It has taken me years to learn how to compose music, and the effort is the reason I cherish the ability. The charm of the accomplishment is substantially detracted from if it is easy to obtain. The enjoyment in striving for something is important to learn, but when the accomplishment is a few clicks away, the experience is reduced to the essence. Being able to compose music without reaching any notable semblance of technical skill is a beautiful metaphor for the dangers spoon feeding. It cheapens the accomplishment, it dilutes it, and, it denies the striver of an important lesson in perseverance. Spoon feeding, deterioration of imaginative capabilities, and a lack of clarity (it terms of ones memories) are all possible effects, happening to different degrees, and not always all three to everybody, or course, but the three together contribute to one possible outcome; a negative effect on a person’s problem solving capabilities. As (Engelbart) says in Augmenting Human Intellect,“First any possibility for improving the effective utilization of the intellectual power of society’s problem solvers warrants the most serious consideration. This is because man’s problem-solving capability represents possibly the most important resource possessed by a society. The other contenders for first importance are all critically dependent for their development and use upon this resource. Any possibility for evolving an art or science that can couple directly and significantly to the continued development of that resource should warrant doubly serious consideration.” Problem solving is a capacity that has a direct effect on the development of almost every other subset of mental prowess in an individual, making it doubly important to cultivate in a society as a whole. Without this resource, our generations skill sets will quickly be rendered just about obsolete. True, the tools are at the disposal of most of our society, developed by few and dispersed to the masses. But if those tools solve only specific problems, leaving some unsolved but drastically subtracting from our collective ability to solve a new problem, where are we left? How well off are we, fostering our Achilles heel while focusing on our shiny new tool? I do not mean to bash the amazing, truly stunning advances in technological development over the last decade and a half. But I will say that in a manor of speaking, some of them have led us one step forwards and two steps back. I would like to speak of another “one step forwards, two steps back” situation that is unique to our day and age. I am as guilty of it as the rest of us; when we are not “connected,” we get a little pang in our heart, a little worry developed, forming our incessant habits of checking our email and/or our phone. FOMO, The Fear of Missing Out sensation, or the “is everyone having fun without me?” disease. With the increasing unavoidability of social media sites, or, more so, the fact that they have become a crucial hub of information and conversation, everyone from middle schoolers to the middle aged are experiencing this new set of paranoias. We feel the pressure to attend every event and share every happening, and it perpetuates itself; it could maybe be described as peer pressure, but its not so much that as it is adhering to a social norm. It is perfectly socially acceptable to check Twitter or your email on a date, or interrupt someone in the room to answer a phone call, or, though it is thankfully becoming less socially acceptable, many of us (myself included) have no problem checking our phones while driving, risking our very lives to check and make sure that we are not becoming less connected. There is a blog on psychcentral.com that asks, “The question is — will we ever settle for what we have, rather than cling to the fear that we may be missing out on something better?” Social media, with the potential to bring us closer together as a specie than ever possible (by a long shot, I might add) is to many of us cultivating an odd kind of distance. We did not foresee this effect. Our relationship with technology is still, in the grand scheme, quite new. Our relationship will mature in time, and we will become less dependent, but, do to human nature, it is unlikely that we will not be curious about what is happening elsewhere when the present moment fails to capture entirely. FOMO will most likely follow us as long as social media is so prominent, but I am hoping that it will shift to a less hindering level. Another term for the above mentioned phenomenon is “Facebook depression.” An article from the Huffington Post, claims; “A study conducted jointly by two German universities found rampant envy on Facebook, the world’s largest social network that now has over one billion users and has produced an unprecedented platform for social comparison. The researchers found that one in three people felt worse after visiting the site and more dissatisfied with their lives, while people who browsed without contributing were affected the most. ‘We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry,” researcher Hanna Krasnova from the Institute of Information Systems at Berlin’s Humboldt University told Reuters.’” Most of us have heard the expression, “Compare and Despair.” More elaborately phrased, if you examine your life by comparing it to a detailed description of another life, you will undoubtably be immensely disappointed. This in itself is far from a new social development. I am sure that people have been doing just this for hundreds of years, longer, since the dawn of civilized man. But with the gift that is social media, it becomes almost impossible to not fall into the afore mentioned tendency. Not only that, but the “detailed life” we end up comparing ours to is one that has been careful crafted by another, inadvertently or otherwise, to reflect a specific version of that person, which may not be altogether dishonest, but is unlikely to be anywhere close to completely honestly one hundred percent accurate. We display our best-of moments on social media, the best days, the wittiest comments, the most beautiful pictures, until what we have is a highlight reel for our friends to look over and approve. What we end up with is a breeding ground for insecurity. Even the more emotionally sound individuals will surely find themselves feeling those quiet pangs of anxiety, how could they not? We only see what they want to show (for the most part), their highlight reel and compare it to our full product. It is not a fair comparison, but it is one that is hard not to make without actively resisting it. So resist! Let social media be the wonderful tool it can be, promoting communication and not insecurity. It is possible, I assure, and in time it will hopefully shift to the best version it can be, if we are aware of what is between us and that best version. But the problem is not just with the devices themselves, it often lies in the ways we combine them. Multitasking is something we all partake in every day, be it texting while driving, sending an email while watching T.V., pursuing social media while talking to a friend, or any of the infinite combinations we explore, we the pioneers of multitasking. In the moment, it feels more efficient, but as explained biologically in this article, “Doing multiple tasks overstimulates and fatigues the frontal lobe, the part of our brains which regulates problem-solving and decision-making. Unsurprisingly, this slows down our efficiency and ultimately takes its toll on our overall performance. Multi-tasking also leads to the build-up of cortisol, the predominant stress hormone. And stress, as we all know, can reap havoc on the immune system, leaving us open to all kinds of infections and illnesses. The science is clear – we can only focus on one thing at a time. When we try to undertake another task at the same time, we must ‘switch’ attention, directly impacting our concentration levels and performance.” Stress, we all feel it. It is almost unavoidable in this day of multitasking. I thought it an emotional effect, but I learned upon my research that it has to do with the release of hormones that lead to the emotional shift. It can not be felt with in a way other than slowing down and focusing on one thing at a time. It is not as easy endeavor. The pace of our generation is rapidly increasing as we strive to remain connected and in contact all the time. But we cannot evade this biological reaction to it, it is simply not possible. If you try and complete a number of tasks at once, than it will cause a release of cortical, the predominant stress hormone, and you will end up doing a worse job on each of the jobs that you wished to complete at one time, it an effort to increase efficiency. Multitasking makes stress unavoidable, and stress is one of the greatest hinderers of mental clarity that there is. As stated before, I do not in anyway feel that the variety of stunning accomplishments technology has let us achieve should be denied, not at all. My goal is to promote awareness of the ways technology can cause mental fogginess, that lack of clarity that most of us feel and do not know what to blame it on. None of these effects are deep set yet, not one of them it etched in stone. All of them are, essentially, reversible and avoidable through simple awareness. It may not seem a drastic tragic inconvenience to lose a bit of sleep, for example, from the overuse of technology before bed. By this I mean, looking at one effect alone it may seem to be not a widespread issue at all, but a small price to pay for a luxury. This is invalid for two reasons; one, examining one effect does not illustrate the potential severity of the combined effects, and two, this shift is still in its first stages. That is why it is so important to promote thoughtful awareness about these effects; the issue is not yet emotionally or socially crippling. If we keep in mind what the potential outcome could be, then we are doing all we need to to insure that technology will continue to be the thought expanding life altering resource that it is meant to be. I would like to conclude with my favorite quote, an optimistic but grounded one, from Computer Lib / Dream Machines, about how technology (or “the media”) remains malleable, we can shape it how we want to to be, avoiding the opposite; “It matters because we live in media, as fish live in water. But today, at this moment, we can and must design the media, design the molecules of our new water, and I believe the details of this design matter very deeply. They will be with us for a very long time, perhaps as long as man has left; perhaps if they are as good as they can be, man may buy even more time— or the open-ended future most suppose remains.”