Every morning when I wake up, my hand unconsciously reaches for my phone. Waking up is not the physical process of forcing myself out of bed, but a tête-à-tête with Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Yik Yak, the list goes on.
Does this sound familiar? You’re not alone. According to a study from IDC Research, 80% of smartphone users check their phones before doing anything else in the morning. The debate over whether or not this increased usage and thus, dependence on technology has been hashed out time and time again. In the 1970s, neuroscientist Michael Merzenich held a famous experiment that examined the consequences of frequent distractions and tangents that the Internet lures us with. According to a recent interview, Merzenich believes that prolonged exposure to gadgets could take a toll on our cognition and intellectual abilities. Just a while back, the University of Maryland conducted a study called The World Unplugged, asking students to take the challenge of abstaining from technology use for one day. Feelings of frustrated, angry, and anxiety were expected to be reported, and were; but many students also felt lonely, panicked, and had heart palpitations throughout the 24 hours.
More than 75% of all teenagers in North America own cellphones and 87% of us text regularly, a statistic that many (read: baby boomers) use to condemn our generation. The argument is that due to social media platforms, tools to perform tasks with no manpower, and the need for the next big thing, youth has developed a narcissistic, lazy, and entitled mentality. However, this is not entirely true. For all the harm technology supposedly inflicts, it is the cornerstone of modern society. For example, robots in factories make for more efficient and precise work. Additionally, social media has created a new platform for global communication, and is much like the telephone of its time. Also, the growth of online classrooms, digital textbooks, and MOOCs has provided students from all over the world a fast and affordable way of learning. It is these technological advancements that humans separate themselves from the rest of the food chain – we alone have the ability to engineer and create new gadgets and gizmos for better life, so why not use it to the fullest extent?
Unfortunately, for all the good, there is twice the bad. We, as a people, have become inherently lazy. There is no need to think when your iPhone will do it for you; there is no need to talk face-to-face when you can simply text. This reshaping of our society has its benefits, yes, but we are losing important aspects of human life. Nowadays, we interact through intangible yet somehow, at the same time, quantifiable ‘likes’ and ‘favorites’. Without our phones, we are naked; ill equipped to face the world, literally single-handedly.
The growing dependence on our gadgets and gizmos is concerning because it affects our cognition and memory skills. In an experiment held by Stanford University, a group people who frequently media multitask and a group people of did so less frequently were given cognitive tests. The results showed that those who multitask more often did poorly on all the tests because they had less control over their attention span, and could not pinpoint the important facts from the trivia. That, plus the numerous side effects of technology addiction, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, cyber bullying, and video game addiction are becoming an increasing problem with youth and adults today.
So is our technology harming us more than it is helping us? It’s hard to say. With all the social, educational, economical, and financial changes brought on by technology, it’s clear that it has ameliorated our quality of daily life. Hence, the problem is not so much that the instruments we use are bad, it’s the way we use them. Even with a barrage of information at our fingertips, many of us cannot seem to find the balance between life in the plasma screen, and, well, life.