It never fails. You’re enjoying a nice quiet dinner with your husband, conversation turns to one of your favorite classic TV series, and the next thing you know, you are having a heated argument about whether or not Ross’ pet monkey was named Eddie or Marcel. Your husband says he was Eddie, you swear he was Marcel, and the dinner, which you spent hours (ok, minutes) ordering in, is close to being ruined.
Had this conversation occurred 10 years ago, the argument might have persisted way past what was appropriate — if there is a time limit on such a serious subject — until one of you finally decided to break the stalemate by calling a knowledgeable “friend.”
Fortunately, in this age of advanced, sophisticated technology, the debate can be settled in seconds, simply by pulling out your phone, allowing you to prove simultaneously that Ross’ monkey was not named Eddie (that was the name of Frazier’s dad’s dog) and enjoy gloating right through dessert.
Technology is such an ingrained part of our lives now that we barely even think about the effect it has on every aspect. It no doubt makes things easier and more efficient, but often a downside comes with being so plugged in.
When people discuss the ways in which technology has influenced our lives, the clearest example comes in the way we now communicate with one another. Smartphones, tablets, social media, FaceTime, Zoom — all have changed the way we relate to other people and the speed at which we do so. Today we can be connected to people in ways we would never have deemed possible. This has been a huge blessing during the pandemic when face-to-face communication with friends and loved ones was impossible.
But these advances in communication do not come without a price. It is easy to become so addicted to your phone or tablet that actual face-to-face interactions become difficult. We can become so reliant on our phones and tablets that we often miss real life as it unfolds before us. Go into any restaurant and you will see tables full of people who are looking at their phones rather than engaging in conversation with the people seated across from their fettuccine Alfredo. And studies have shown that misunderstandings are more likely to occur with text messages than with in-person conversations. The written word doesn’t come with auditory or visual cues that help us detect if someone is being sarcastic, is joking, or is dead serious.
Reliance on social media for news and information adds to these misunderstandings. So much false information, innumerable scams, and many misleading statistics circulate that, unless you approach it all with some skepticism, you can easily be misled, conned, and even hurt. In hundreds of instances, good people have lost their life savings because they trusted an unreliable source, or worse, were physically harmed because they met up with a person they thought they knew well but had, in fact, only communicated with online.
Texting is also considered to be the main culprit in a shocking decline in children’s literacy. Literature that was a normal part of a 10th grade curriculum 15 years ago is now not even attempted by one local English teacher, who instead must go over basic punctuation and spelling rules with these 16-year-olds.
With the exception of a few excellent exercise apps and heart monitoring devices, our health is the one aspect of our lives that has incurred the greatest number of negative side effects since technology has taken over our lives. Studies show that 10 years ago, the average person’s attention span was approximately 12 seconds, but that has now dropped to eight. Goldfish have an attention span of nine seconds, so we are now more distractible than our fishy little friends — although to be fair, we might have better concentration skills if all we had to look at were miniature pirate boxes and tiny fake plants.
Our eyesight is strained from looking at screens all day, as our eyes were meant to focus for long periods of time on something at least 20 feet away — not an object only one or two feet from us. Insomnia has increased and not just because we want to watch that next rerun episode of Friends but because looking at a screen actually stimulates the brain in such a way that sleep becomes difficult. The “blue light” emitted from screens inhibits the release of melatonin, the hormone that makes you fall asleep, much in the way that sunlight does.
All that time on our devices also means we are engaging in less physical activities, which in turn has led to a rise in obesity rates. Even our posture has changed from hunching over our cell phones, leading to an exacerbated number of musculoskeletal disorders.
Too much time spent with our technology devices can also increase the risk of depression and anxiety disorders. One of the most frightening developments, however, is a phenomenon called phantom vibrations — our brains tell us our phones are buzzing — we actually feel the vibration from the buzz — but in reality, no buzz has occurred at all. Like the horror movies predicted, the machines really are taking over and messing with our heads.
Our entertainment selections have increased exponentially with the advent of certain types of technology. Now we can watch everything — including Ross and his pet monkey Marcel — without leaving the comfort of our own homes. We can play games, by ourselves or with a group of online friends, download books instantly, enjoy amusing memes; the entertainment possibilities that can be enjoyed through the wonders of technology are endless.
But there is a price to pay, and sometimes it is a hefty one. Many of those online games come with buy-in options, and plenty of parents have been hit with enormous credit card bills because their child hit buy over and over and over again. Easy access to online gambling sites has come with a spike in the number of people suffering from gambling additions.
Lack of sleep in many adults has been linked to late night hours spent binge-watching a series either on their big screens or tablets. Shows no longer end, and while Netflix will ask, after three episodes in a row, if you want to continue watching, the answer is usually yes. The blue light, again, makes it harder to fall asleep once you finally, if ever, stop.
The ease at which we can shop for items we didn’t even know we needed until the social media influencer told us we did is astounding. No longer do we have to go to the store, bring 15 bathing suits into the changing room, and muffle our sobs when none of them fit. Now those suits are delivered to your front door, so you can openly weep in the privacy of your own bathroom!
Online shopping has risks, however, including even more time spent on devices, browsing through a maze of goods that we simply must have. The ease at which we can put it in our baskets and hit buy makes it more likely that overspending will occur. Delivery delays, items not living up to the description, a greater risk of fraud and identity theft, not to mention the fact that returns can sometimes be impossible to figure out, all can make online shopping a hassle, not to mention the effect it has on local businesses.
For those of us who did not meet our spouses through a dating site, the thought of using Bumble, Hinge, or EHarmony to meet a potential mate can seem unnatural. But no longer do you have to depend on your cousin to set you up with a friend of a friend who supposedly looks like Bradley Cooper but turns out to resemble Danny DeVito. Now you can fix yourself up, converse, and go to that first dinner only to discover they used Bradley Cooper’s picture as their profile and you are in fact, out with Danny DeVito.
And there is the danger. You can’t be sure who they really are, and the risks can be far greater than just being disappointed by your date’s appearance. Physical assaults can occur so care should be taken when using this particular type of technology. Ask plenty of questions, meet in public places, and always drive yourself to the destination.
Ways Your Phone is Changing You
By Juleah Blatt
Tony Reinke’s book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You explains how our iPhones are changing the way we live and provides safety parameters to guard against any unwanted effects from living with this incredible piece of technology. In the preface, he quotes David Wells in saying that we are all trying to figure out what is useful to us and what is damaging. Reinke goes on to say, “We are, in fact, living with a parallel virtual universe, a universe that can take all of the time that we have. What happens to us when we are in constant motion — when we are almost addicted to constant visual stimulation? What is this doing to us? That is the big question.”
Reinke cites several articles confirming the fact that at the time many of us were receiving our first iPhones, Steve Jobs was actively shielding his children from his digital machines. Jobs said when asked if his children enjoy the iPad, “They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”
Here are the 12 ways Reinke recognizes that the iPhone is changing its users. We hope these will encourage readers to safeguard themselves and their families while enjoying technology as we all learn to navigate this tech-inundated world:
1. We Are Addicted to Distraction — “We check our smartphones about 81,500 times each year, or once every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives … and the average user now spends 50 minutes — every day — in the Facebook product line (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram), a number that continues to surge by strategic design.”
2. We Ignore Our Flesh and Blood — Texting while driving is an anecdote of this point: “Talking on the phone while driving a vehicle makes you four times more likely to get into an accident, but texting while driving makes your chance of a crash 23 times more likely. Assuming a driver never looks up in the average time it takes to send a text (4.6 seconds), at 55 mph, he drives blindly the length of a football field … the real cause of texting and driving — a lack of awareness of the flesh and blood we speed past every day.”
3. We Crave Immediate Approval — Reinke points out the “approval addiction” found with these technologies: “In the online world, we can break free from our physical limitations … we can present ourselves as older, or younger … we can separate ourselves from people who don’t think like us and gravitate toward people who do.” Alastair Roberts also warns, “Our phones buffer us from diversity … in effect, our online communities render invisible the majority of the human race.”
4. We Lose Our Literacy — The greatest challenge to literacy is a short attention span. “It is a matter of attention, and in the digital age, our attention is a commodity worth money … with so much at stake, corporations are refining the art of attention capturing with a growing field of technological expertise called ‘captology,’” writes Reinke. According to ethicist Oliver O’Donovan, “The digital age hurries us and shatters our concentration into a million little pieces.”
5. We Feed on the Produced — “We must be aware that all the content on the ‘small screen’ of our phones is intermediated … we have high-definition portals into the vast beauties and glories of creation, but every message we receive has been cut, edited, and produced for a purpose.”
6. We Become Like What We “Like” — “The words and images we consume transform us … we become like what we worship.”
7. We Get Lonely — “Isolation is both the promise and the price of technological advance.” Stephen Marche writes, “The history of our use of technology is a history of isolation desired and achieved.”
8. We Get Comfortable in Secret Vices — “Technology makes us think we can indulge in anonymous vices, even conceptually, without any future consequences. Anonymity is where sin flourishes, and anonymity is the most pervasive lie of the digital age … every double-tap and every click will be accounted for.” When studying the Ashley Madison data breach, the numbers are surprising. Ashley Madison contained 32 million profiles but “a tabulation was made of users who were actively checking their message inboxes. The breakdown was 20.3 million men to 1,500 women … when you look at the evidence, it’s hard to deny that the overwhelming majority of men using Ashley Madison weren’t having affairs. They were paying for a fantasy. It was a lie, and millions entertained the daydream under the false cloak of anonymity.”
9. We Lose Meaning — “The average output of email and social media text is estimated at 3.6 trillion words, or about 36 million books — typed out every day!” In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, he warned, “Books will be marginalized by data torrent.” Tony Reinke explains that “Huxley feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism … he feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”
10. We Fear Missing Out — Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO, is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”
11. We Become Harsh to One Another — Tony quotes Essena O’Neill, a former Instagram model, in this chapter. “Social media — as the current system of numbers and money dictates — is not genuine life … it’s a system based on social approval, likes and dislikes, validation in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated judgement.”
12. We Lose Our Place in Time — Tony states that smartphone abuse causes us to squander precious hours and almost erases us from our place in time in three ways: we lose track of time, we dislocate ourselves historically, we cut ourselves off from an eternal timeline.