Is the internet killing you or making you stronger?: special guest: Dr. Julie Albright, expert on digital culture

Me and my Little Screen

“Created by My Little Bot”

I used to have to go to bookstores and video stores, I don’t anymore.

I used to have to go get groceries, I don’t anymore.

I used to have to call a taxi, I don’t anymore.

I used to have to buy a house, I don’t anymore.

I used to have to go to singles bars, I don’t anymore.

I used to go to restaurants by myself, and they called me a loser; they don’t anymore.

Now, it’s always me and my little screen, what do I need anything else for? 

Do you love digital media and technology, or is it driving you crazy? Maybe, the answer is both.  As we love the freedom, opportunities, and convenience it brings us, we may dislike the distancing of true connections, the obsession with triviality that robs our valuable time and energy, and the lack of focus that is lost in constant distractions.

Although there is much to like about technology, smart phones, and the internet, let’s look at some areas of caution (and opportunity) we need to be aware of:

*We Live in an Untethered Society:  With digital hyperconnectivity (we’re connected with the world, 24-7), it’s possible to live remotely in one place and make money or have relationships in another (even a faraway place). This can be a great advantage, but it also means that we may not put down roots—in a community, a relationship, a life.  We may become “Digital Nomads,” wandering the world (in a virtual reality sense)—forever looking for the perfect relationship, career, or lifestyle, but not able to settle on one.

*We Become Impatient:  If an Uber takes too long to come, we may call for a Lyft.  If a prospective dating partner doesn’t return our text in 10 minutes, we move on to the next by swiping on our phones. If we don’t like our job, we click onto a site to find another. Although having options can be liberating, too many options can confuse us and make us impatient. We forget what it’s like to work for things, commit to people and situations, to develop discipline and work hard for the things that really matter.

*We Can Become Addicted and Lonely: Studies show that being on social media can give us the same brain chemical rush as playing the slot machines.  You keep clicking and checking for that payoff or jackpot: a “Like” or a favorable message that will bring you good news. The same happens when you view pleasurable or exciting video content; you keep watching and watching to get that brain rush, but you may neglect more important tasks like your personal care, your family and relationships, your work and career.  When people lose their phones, they may even suffer from depression, similar to the withdrawal symptoms of a drug addict—suffering as if they have lost their very lives.  Also, living a perpetual digital life (constantly on a screen or tablet) can create a disconnected and lonely feeling—the primary interaction is with a screen and not with real, live human beings, face-to-face.

*You’re on 24-7.  In the days before the internet and cell phones, people had to call you (and you had to answer the phone) or come over to your house to interact with you. In between, you had moments of rest and relaxation.  You could read a book, listen to music, watch the birds, play with animals and children, or just have a plain old-fashioned conversation with family, friends, or neighbors.  Today, with constant texting, messages, phone calls, and emails, it seems like there’s not enough time to do anything, much less have real, one-on-one, face-to-face conversations.

Although the digital world can pose pitfalls and dangers, there is a lot to love about it too: the freedom to live and work anywhere (remotely), connect with friends and relatives all over the world, communicate injustice to the world, organize data better, and live a more convenient life (products, services, food, books, and movies on demand). In the future, we need to integrate the good and the bad, and come up with a technology solution that allows us to integrate technology into our lives while still enabling us to be fully human: loving, peaceful, and capable of living a meaning-driven life.