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Technology Dependence MAG
As I sit down to write, I listen. My family is out – I'm all alone – so for a moment it seems quiet. Then I notice all the noises so often overlooked because they never go away. Gently the refrigerator hums, the television whines, the air purification unit exhales. All unceasing. I'm writing, with a pencil on real paper today, but only as a last resort because we're on vacation and I can't find my dad's laptop. How terribly appropriate, considering the title of my paper.
As a sophomore, I am no expert in mechanics, medicine, or genetics, so I won't pretend to be. What I will talk about is the one thing on which I am an expert: my life. I will tell you how technology has affected me and my relationships, how I've heard it spoken of, for better and for worse.
Mine can't be too worthless an opinion, considering I belong to the generation most acquainted with technology. I am the daughter of the X-Generation, technologically fluent and adaptable with a deep affection for the Internet. So I do not say this lightly: I fear that technology is replacing life.
Americans are addicted to technology. My friends are obsessed with social networking. I know boys who are addicted to gaming, and girls who stay up into the wee hours watching movies and TV. In conversations I often find myself competing with five other interactions happening on my friends' cell phones. I see e-mail replacing letters, electronic readers replacing books, and photos replacing memories.
Technology is the centerpiece of our generation. Does this sound like an exaggeration? It's not. In a Facebook poll, college students confessed to spending an average of 30 hours a week on the social networking site. In addition, gaming addiction is so prevalent that it is on its way to be considered a diagnosable disorder. The average teenager sends and receives 3,339 texts per month – that's more than six per hour while they're awake – according to a Nielsen survey. The online newspaper The Daily Mind sums it up, saying, “This media has become so addictive and we have come to rely on it so much, we wouldn't know how to live without the constant stimulation.”
The fact is we are all plugged-in and totally dependent on technology. If you disagree, imagine waking up to find your cell phone dead, your Internet connection down, your TV broken, and all other forms of day-to-day technology rendered useless. Suddenly, your world of instant entertainment, instant information, and instant communication vanishes. How does that make you feel?
I realized the extent of my own addiction a few weeks ago when our Internet and phone service went out for a few days. I paced around the house like a caged lion. I couldn't watch a movie. I couldn't chat with my friends. I couldn't listen to music on YouTube. I couldn't blog. I couldn't research. I couldn't even Google “What to do when bored.” Without technology, I was at a loss. I couldn't entertain myself, couldn't get immediate answers to questions, couldn't contact my friends, couldn't even get my schoolwork done.
Realizing my utter dependence was unnerving. If the Internet failed nationally, I have little doubt anarchy would follow. Services would fail, business would halt, schools would shut down, and relationships would be severed. Our society is utterly addicted to technology. It has become our lives.
It's easy to understand how we have gotten ourselves into this problem. It is human nature to innovate, improve, and most of all, imagine. From the invention of the wheel to the invention of the smart phone, humans have worked to improve our existence through the use of tools.
Technology in and of itself is not bad. It has advanced comfort and ease, and there is the indisputable advantage of greater access to information. We have worked to create more advanced technologies due to our drive to innovate, and we have embraced these inventions due to our desire to imagine. In his essay “The Reach of Imagination,” Jacob Bronowski states, “the human gift is imagination … The richness of human life is that we have many lives; we live the events that do not happen (and some that cannot) as vividly as those that do.” This quote paints the human desire to live other lives in its best light, but this can be a vice too. Imagination perverted is escapism. We are drawn to technology because it allows us to escape our own lives and imagine a thousand others.
One of the more obvious examples of escapism is TV (or online streaming). For the length of a movie, real life dissolves into the world of the screen. When talking with a group of teenage girls about the issue, all admitted (somewhat sheepishly) to the addictive appeal of living in another world where adventure and love are idealized. A less blatant mode of technological escapism is social networking. Sites like Facebook present the opportunity to create a life in photos, notes, quotes, and comments. You can make this reflection of yourself as flawless as you wish. You can build virtual friendships because there is always someone to talk with. Technology allows us to stimulate our imaginations with numerous quasi-existences.
These virtual lives come at a cost. We waste hours of our real lives in cyber worlds rather than going out and actively living. We dream of adventure and excitement, then go online in a quest for satisfaction. We groom relationships on Facebook, chat, and text but ignore those around us. Sadly, these tradeoffs seem to make us less happy overall.
For example, my brother and I would spend hours playing “Call of Duty,” “Counter Strike,” and even “World of Warcraft.” But after a while we both started noticing something – we were depressed. We had an empty feeling that just wouldn't go away. After a while we linked it to the games because we realized that we were getting over-stimulated, and when the games were off we hit a low, kind of like a sugar rush that inevitably leads to a crash. But it was more long-lasting and powerful.
Media and technology can also have this effect. If we are constantly Tweeting, Facebooking, and listening to music, when it all stops we feel depressed. Our senses finally get a moment to relax and we feel terrible and alone.
I have also felt this. Stepping away from the tube world of happiness and entertainment where I am a heroine, and back into the world where I have done nothing but waste another hour staring at a screen, is depressing. More depressing than I like to admit. As technology progresses in leaps and bounds, it's instructive to notice that depression is increasing at similarly tremendous rates.
New technologies have also created the rat race of modern existence. Technology has driven the pace of living to a frantic new tempo. Stress is the new normal. Stimulation is unceasing. We are never alone. There is never a moment of silence.
Unknowingly, we've sacrificed the right to stillness. How preposterous it sounds to our fast-paced mindset, the idea that life isn't measured by how much you can fit into a day. Quantity does not make quality. Through our machines we can do more than ever before, often with neater, faster, more accurate results. But we've lost the savor of a life well-lived, a life appreciated at every moment, a life content to pause and notice what it means to be alive.
What can we do? Sever all technological ties? Unfortunately, that would be social suicide. In a humorous cartoon published on Facebook, two new acquaintances face each other. One says, “I'll add you on Facebook,” to which the other replies, “I don't have one.” Over the next few frames, the second person fades to nothing. Our dependence is complete. Refusing to participate in society's new modes of communication and information results in a virtual social suicide. It is impossible to keep up in academics without the Internet. Communication would be miserable without cell phones and e-mail. I can't turn in my paper handwritten like this, with scribbles and misspellings. I'll have to type it.
There is some hope. I have learned little ways to combat technology's grip on my life. Although I'll never cancel my Facebook or e-mail accounts, I have resolved not to have a conversation online that could happen as easily in person or over the phone. I have sworn to never allow texts to interrupt my face-to-face conversations. That buzz in my pocket can wait.
During the summer – my most tempting season for squandering time – I make a conscious effort to find creative, productive activities, like playing the piano, painting a picture, writing a poem, biking to a friend's house, or organizing my room. Sometimes after finding myself drawn into virtual worlds, I resolve to have an adventure in the real world. I go for a walk, find a place to visit, or study the interesting people around me at coffee shops and libraries.
Making these tiny efforts rewards me tenfold. As I step away from my machines, I relax. I ponder life. I find myself oddly energized and absurdly happy. The best example of this happened during a vacation two summers ago. My camera was lost, and I was lamenting all the photos I wouldn't have for posterity's sake. Suddenly I realized that memories don't have to by captured in photographs. I resolved to describe everything in my journal, and I cannot tell you how worthwhile it was. I used my mind to come up with creative ways to preserve my memories. As a result, that trip lives more vividly in my memory than any other.
Technology is replacing life, and it is not a beneficial exchange. I implore you to fight against it. Be still. Listen. Think. Observe. Create. Draw. Speak. Sing. Throw your soul headlong into reality. Embrace it and improve it by stepping away from the machines that try to define it.