Constantly Connected: Where is Technology Leading Us?
I sat in my room, all the lights off, except for the bright glow of my computer monitor, waiting expectantly for the sound of the squeaks and squeals of modems speaking. Soon I was greeted by the familiar sound of a man’s voice. “Welcome! You’ve got mail!” That was the way of things nearly twenty years ago, but with the growth of technology there are no more friendly greetings. In today’s world we are just all simply connected, no longer is there a need for waiting to get our e-mails, they are just instantly delivered to our cell phones. With the advent of faster and smarter technologies, are we in danger of losing ourselves? Is this constant connection a positive thing? Is there really a need to have this intimate of a relationship with an object? These are a few things that psychologist and sociologist Sherry Turkle addresses in her TED Talk Connected, but Alone? She obtained her PhD in Sociology and Personality Psychology from Harvard University; she has also written many books and articles that look at the way technology affects both our professional and personal lives.
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Turkle brings it to our attention that we have allowed technology to wedge its way between us and our lives. But she argues, "What technology makes easy is not always what nurtures the human spirit." Although the internet is great for the fact it is a virtual library that is accessible from nearly anywhere in the world, it has been abused for too long as a way of mass communication. As the internet has aged it moved from a place for people to share information with some kind of importance. As we can see today, however, the internet is used to share information that some might say is completely useless. Another example of this is the automobile. Just over a hundred years ago a person would live within walking distance of their job. Now, though, people can now live farther from their jobs, and according to ABC News the average American spends an average of sixteen miles commuting to work, and that’s just one way. This dependence on technology to take us greater distances has also made it possible to live states away from parents and siblings.
Another thing that Turkle points out is, that do to our connected lives we are actually lonelier, and more afraid to be intimate. So instead of face that fear, we place technology as a mediator to help us find friends. There are all sorts of companies in the world now that exploit people’s fears of intimacy; Facebook, Twitter, EHarmony just to name a few. Although these programs are designed to keep people with common traits connected, they seem to cause a loss of face-to-face social interactions. Evolution gave us the ability to communicate through language, but it now seems as if our own quest for greater control has given us a new way to communicate. The problem with this is that if we stop communicating at a personal level altogether, we can no longer sense emotional distress from other people and altogether technology is destroying our ability to communicate face-to-face. Another problem with this is that there is really no understanding of what friendship means. Facebook, for example, wants everyone to be friends, or at least have large amounts of people that are called “friends”. This seems to be somewhat shallow. Friends to me are people who are not afraid to say what they think, and are always willing to give feedback, even if I don’t want to hear it. You don’t find that on Facebook or Twitter, what you do find are people who call you “friend” only because you both share a common interest (i.e. music, movies, or even just a website).
One more negative aspect of technological growth has been on our personal lives is within our own families. In an article written by Gillian Taber, a writer for Helium.com, she gives us knowledge of how much technology we, as Americans, have in our homes. According to Taber, as of 2009, 54% of homes own 3 or more televisions, while 82% have more than one. She also states that 1 in 3 kids have a PC in their room. These numbers are not surprising, simply because of our societies reliance on technology. What is surprising, however, is the fact that most families do not interact with each other. Taber writes, “Where once a child would have gone to a parent or grand-parent for help with homework, now there is no need. A couple of clicks, a quick query of Google and everything is there without the need of human interaction.” The overuse of cell phones is another good example, used by both Taber and Turkle, of how technology has replaced human interactions. Just look around and we can see how many people are on the phone while they are hanging out with friends. What does this say about our culture? Are we actually that enthralled by technology that we are willing to let it replace our real companions, other people?
Sherry Turkle says, “We expect more from technology and less from each other.” This statement could not be truer. If we take a look at the way we interact with our technology versus the way we interact with each other, we see a clear depiction of our expectations. The use of technology is not simply destroying our ability to communicate on a personal level, but also, it is taking a toll on our physical health. I cannot rightly say that technology has created obesity, but I can say with some confidence, that technology is assisting in the inflammation of the number of obese peoples. As Gillian Taber writes, “Why go swimming together when the Wii allows fitness to happen in the comfort of the living room or bedroom?” As if playing a video game actually compares to physical exercise. Playing games on our phones or laptops is another way that we use technology as a deterrent from exercise. In the end all that is being accomplished is isolation from family, true friends, and even our own health.
It is easy to see how technology has given us some of the greatest achievement’s known to man, and even helped us to reach the level of existence that we have today. We would still live in caves if not for technology, we would still be hunter/gatherers if not for technology. Even in our own time we can see the great usefulness of technology in our pursuit of space travel, and aversion of natural disasters. With the help of technology we have created bridges that can stand-up to 6.0 earthquakes and ships that can take the abuse of gale force winds while the battering of ocean waters does little to corrode our finest metals. It may not be so easy to see the damage that technology has done and is continuing to do. Of these damages Turkles’ argument is the least, she says “We're letting [technology] take us places that we don't want to go.” This statement is only half true. If she were to look at it from an outsiders point of view, than she might see that it might one day take us to places we need to go. Today carbon dioxide levels are high, causing global impact on weather patterns. Technology is the main force behind this growth of carbon dioxide; our modern industrialized lives have forced businesses to create newer and newer goods. The expense of this is our own planet being choked to death. We must also look at the great things technology has done for us, such as better ways to store our foods and advances in medicine.
My argument to Sherry Turkle and Gillian Taber is this; Technology is both a positive and negative, what WE do with it is how we will continue to grow. If technology is to be used as just a social media then we are a doomed race, like the dodo bird. However if we are able to make technology work for us, and not vice versa, then we will find a way to fix the damage we have done. We must all come together to find a solution to this problem of too much technology. Not only are our families and friends relying on us to figure it out, but our planet is also in need of our help.
Do you think technology is headed in the right direction?
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© 2013 Jeremy Floyd