In an age where technology advances at an alarmingly fast rate, humanity has become frighteningly obsessed with being ‘connected’.
Whether it’s via cellphones, laptops, tablets or PCs, access to the internet, with its numerous sites and ever-increasing social media platforms, is fundamentally changing the way we live.
Our generation is fast becoming unable to distance itself from these technological devices, unable – or rather unwilling – to keep our fingers away from keyboards and touchscreens for more than a few hours.
There is no question that these technological advances have and will continue to afford us wonderful opportunities that we did not have a decade ago, but they are also causing needless distractions in our daily lives. These advances, instead of simplifying life and connecting us to the greater world, can do just the opposite 99.9% of the time.
An example of this is the ‘smartphone’, which make it easier than ever before for us to stay ‘connected’. Now I concede that they do provide unparalleled access to friends and family and help with everyday assistance or work-related tasks and activities. They are even helpful in avoiding or escaping dangerous situations.
But is it really imperative for us to be glued to them twenty-four hours a day? Is it right for us to sit at the dinner table with our families or friends and have everyone (certainly anyone between the ages of twelve and thirty-five) active on their phones, often chatting ‘virtually’ with the people around them instead of communicating face-to-face?
According to the article ‘Are you an ‘Infomaniac?’ in the UK tabloid, The Sun, 51% of the people surveyed said they check social networking sites during dinnertime and 42% said they will go so far as to stop verbal conversation if their phone beeps. Furthermore, Pew Research found that the average worker checks their email 36 times every hour.
Whether the reasons for this OCD-like behaviour are strictly work- or education-related, or simply to catch up with old friends, if we have a shred of respect left for others then surely this is a flagrantly rude way to conduct ourselves? And should this really be considered the ‘norm’?
You often see people carelessly crossing the street while typing away on their smartphones, and as anyone with a touchscreen can no doubt attest to, this is not the easiest thing to do when you’re walking unobstructed… let alone trying to cross a busy intersection. Not only are you placing your own life at risk, but the lives of those around you.
We like to pretend that all these new ‘toys’ are vital to our lives and are key to the success of our every endeavour, but the truth is that people managed perfectly fine as recently as ten years ago without such devices. They were still able to form bonds with the people that mattered to them, they still succeeded in their studies and professions and (more importantly) they were able to survive without being constantly ‘logged on’. Surely we should be able to limit our need to be online, yet for some reason it seems utterly incomprehensible for many of us to be disconnected.
What if we were to miss something important because our Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp or BBM hadn’t been checked for all of sixty minutes? Surely the world as we know it would end if the internet should ever be down for more than a few hours, or dare I say it, an entire day?
We tend to become increasingly frustrated when we cannot connect to the web due to some technical glitch, or lack of data, because it means being cut off from the great enabler of our times. As we pour through our newsfeeds, check our social media accounts or snatch up our phones to hurriedly scan through our messages, we are losing touch with the outside world, with the people around us, and are (ironically) becoming more anti-social than ever before.
I’m not referring to communicating with people a continent away. I’m talking about the people who live in our same city, neighbourhood and even our homes. People can literally be sitting a room apart and yet, instead of having a face-to-face conversation, they will chat to each other via instant messaging.
We’ve become so accustomed to sending virtual gifts, e-cards and to writing on people’s Facebook walls that we no longer seem to bother taking the time to help them celebrate special occasions (such as the birth of a new child, an engagement or even a birthday) in the old ways: in person or by giving something tangible and personal such as a handshake or a handwritten card, something that has a longer-lasting meaning than that of the fleeting virtual moment.
As the following paragraph from the novel How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer (contributing editor at Wired) says, “We live in a culture that’s awash in information; it’s the age of Google… and free online encyclopaedias. We get anxious whenever we are cut off from all this knowledge, as if it’s impossible to make a decision without a search engine.”
The truth is that we’ve become so dependent on search engines like Google or online encyclopaedias like Wikipedia, that we’ve almost forgotten that we possess one of the most powerful thought processors in existence: the human brain. This ‘net neediness’ that we now exhibit means that technology is in fact overwhelming us, instead of simplifying our already-complicated lives, and making us more indecisive… like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.
Have we become more connected to the world or are we becoming terminally disconnected from everything and everyone around us?
One day, we may find that it’s not just the latest tweet, Facebook status or trending topic that we’ve missed. Instead, we might look up and realise that we have missed experiencing all the moments that make life worth living… real moments that involve actual contact with the people we care about… and enjoying the here and now… rather than tweeting or Instagramming it.