Tuesday, February 1, 2011

If You Own a Cell Phone or Computer, I Hope You Read This

Nobody wants to be told that they are living in the Dark Ages. Technology has become so prevalent in our culture that if a person doesn't have a television set, a computer, and a cell phone (at the very least), then they are considered to be "backwards" or "behind the times". What are the pros and cons of technology?

All our technological advancements have created a society of "ambient intimacy", as anthropologist Amber Case says**. We are still living physically separate from the world in our homes, with our individual jobs, families, and possessions, but our lives are intricately intertwined with each other by the connections technology allows. Besides calling on the telephone, I have many other options now when I want to immediately connect with someone: texting, Skype, online chat, email or message, Twitter, and networking sites like Facebook. This feeling of always being "available" can be overwhelming as the phone buzzes or computer beeps constantly when more and more people attempt to establish a connection with you. Each interaction, whether face to face or separated by thousands of miles, requires energy for response and communication. For a person who is naturally social, the increase of dialogue venues may be beneficial, even stimulating; for someone who is more introverted, the stream of social intercourse may be stifling. 

There are many effects and repercussions when people are connected so intimately through technology. People can be simultaneously more private and more open with each other. Instead of talking to someone by devising an immediate verbal response as they are present in the room with you, a person can calculate their response by writing, giving each phrase extra thought before they click "send". This can produce either more honesty or more masks, as people have the advantage of hiding behind the distance, formulating concisely detailed or short vague answers, and taking as much time as they need before replying. Also, technology-based communication lacks the important information of body language and facial expressions that are key to most interactions. 

In my mind, the increase of communication ability is a mixed bag. On the good side, people who I normally would have very little chance to see due to distance now feel almost magically close. A quick text or a Skype call, and we are able to have hours of conversation that makes the separation of the miles easier to bear. Of course nothing really compares to being humanly close, giving a hug in greeting, sitting next to each other, and hearing real laughter not processed through electronic air. But if this is not an option then technology provides a way of bridging the gap between far-away friends or family. 

On the other hand, however, more technology can be a distraction. This doesn't mean only with communication machines, like cell phones and computers, but also with the technology that distracts us from real life. Computers do a good job of this already with their allure of the internet; I won't even bother to explain how the internet can suck us in for wasted hours at a time, since anyone who has access to a computer already knows this. Video games too, whether hand-held or regular game systems, do their part of entertaining countless millions of all ages while keeping them inert and away from the real world. Television programs themselves reduce people to passive consumers of images. Technology can have the adverse effect of isolating individuals as they become self-absorbed in their own worlds. 

It takes discipline to keep oneself from falling captive to these things, because they are just that: things. Technology in moderation is not a bad thing; who doesn't mind a movie or a morning of cartoons or an hour surfing the web? It has the capability of providing mankind with great connectivity across the globe, as proved by the current crisis in Egypt and their government's attempted shut-down of the citizens' challenging voices. Technology has the wonderful power of information, knowledge, and potential for education. Yet it also can drag us into a dark place of amusement addiction and lies, whether by media or a person hiding in the anonymity of cyberspace.

Tomorrow I'll write more about the impact of other devices such as musical and literary advances in technology. I'll also talk more about its effect on the entertainment industry in more detail.  

** For more information on how technology is affecting us, I highly recommend you watch Amber Case's TED talk called "We Are All Cyborgs Now". It is only eight minutes long, and well worth it to hear her describe both the positive and negative results of humans becoming connected by technology.

Also, read this article about making sure technology doesn't overtake your life. It has lots of good advice that I am hoping to implement for myself. 

1 comment:

  1. I forget who said this, but I read some quote somewhere that says something along the lines of:
    The internet amplifies a person's personality. If someone is extroverted it helps them connect better, if they are introverted it helps them withdraw more.
    I'm not sure if you already said something similar along those lines in your blog, or if this is completely irrelevant anyways. I only skimmed what you wrote.