I have no idea the extent to which digital and social media will affect us all long term. But I am absolutely certain it has changed society forever. It's changed the way we communicate. It's changed the way we get information. I think it's even warped our concept of time. Anymore, if it isn't instant – it's slow. And slow is unacceptable.
When I think of the number of people I am able to connect with through Facebook on a daily basis that I would otherwise not talk to for months or years at a time — heck, let's be honest, some of them I might never have seen again after high school — it's incredible.
Technology means efficiency. It means speed. It means information.
This showed up in my Twitter feed this week. And since I know better than to think you will actually go read the article, here are the high points. (You know… speed and efficiency…)
- Researchers at the University of Maryland suggest that college kids worldwide are "addicted" to portable electronic devices, such as cell phones, laptops and iPods.
- In the study, students gave up their gadgets for 24 hours.
- Researchers expected students in different regions of the world to have different reactions — but it turns out that digital "addiction" knows no boundaries. Students all over the world had very similar reactions.
Among the comments from participants after their 24-hour separation from portable electronic devices:
- An American student: "I was itching, like a crackhead, because I could not use my phone."
- A student in Slovakia: "I felt sad, lonely and depressed."
- A Chinese student: "I can say, without exaggeration, I was almost freaking out."
- A British student: "Media is my drug; without it I was lost. I am an addict."
These kids today…
But think about it. Technology has come to mean communication. It has come to mean that connection between two people, or in some cases between one person — and the rest of the world. My generation is the generation of constant connection. Constant exchange of information — headlines to details, and everything in between.
Technology and social media have officially crossed the line from luxury and extra-curricular to essential and productive – and, evidently, indispensable. It's the way we talk to each other and it's the way we get information.
And I'm prepared to stand up and say – I'm ok with that.
As the world takes a step forward into a future of screens and networks and status updates, it's no surprise that our society has become pretty fond of conveniences like speed and efficiency. If there's a faster, better way – why not? Right? I don't see too many people voluntarily foregoing a car or indoor plumbing. These were once considered new fangled technology, too — but now they've become accepted efficiencies. Modern conveniences. Obviously, they aren't essential to life. Very, very few things actually are. But everything from microwaves to hair dryers to alarm clocks are really nothing more than fast, efficient "technology". But no one accuses college students of being addicted to microwaves, do they?
I'm not shocked that college kids showed symptoms of withdrawal after feeling cut off from their world for 24 hours. In some ways, it would be shocking if the results showed anything else. How bad is it to be "addicted" to information? How bad is it to be "addicted" to connecting with people? The study essentially measured the reaction caused by cutting off major sources of information and primary methods of human connection. Loneliness. Isolation. I'd freak out, too.
I know, I know. It isn't good to be glued to screens all day. I know. I wrote THIS a few months ago for NWAMotherlode. I KNOW. And I am one of the worst. Putting down the phone/computer/iPod can be a very healthy thing. Getting some real live sunshine in place of artificial laptop light can be a very healthy thing. Teaching your kids that there's more to life than what is on the DVR can be a VERY healthy thing. Trust me, if the study had measured the reactions of college kids when separated from video games for 24 hours – I would have very little sympathy.
Actual, direct human connection is best. It's much more enlightening to experience something for yourself rather than reading about it in a blog. I believe in all of that. I do. I worry that Colt is growing up in a generation of virtual reality and digital EVERYTHING, and I worry, a lot, about just how accessible some information will be in the next 16 years of his life. I worry that there will be no typing class in his junior high because everyone just uses their thumbs.
But I am comfortable embracing progress. And technology. And – taking the bad with the good – I'm comfortable filling my life with modern conveniences.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some emails to return.