Is technology is changing the way we think and how we interact with the world around us?

A discussion of the impact of technology on us, how we think, and how we experience the world around us.

In today’s world, most of us are tethered in some way to a computing device, be it our smartphone, tablet computer, laptop, or a combination of the three. Further, and perhaps more importantly, we tend to rarely disconnect from our personal devices for any extended period of time.  As a result, we are continuously inundated with data, such as emails, text messages, and notifications and alerts from our social networks, to name a few.

Though those electronic devices might be virtually indispensable in today’s society, and yes our lives and lifestyles have had to evolve accordingly, are we being changed fundamentally by technology? Without a doubt, much can be said on this subject, and as our societies become even  more digital, the effects of technology on us, physiologically, and on our lives, will become even more evident. However, below we highlight a few observations that have been made to date.

Our attention span and concentration are dwindling

Based on recent research, there is concern that technology is rewiring our brains. For example, in a 2008 article in The Atlantic magazine, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, the author outlined the change he had been experiencing:

I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

Many of us are likely to be able to attest to the experience of that writer. Though we would have read novels back in the day, particularly at school, we now find ourselves opting out of reading books, or even long articles. If we must, more often than not, we just scan the text to try to pick up the salient points, but not necessarily to enjoy the experience of reading.

We are becoming continually sleep deprived

Following from the earlier observation that we tend to rarely disconnect from our personal devices, it must also be highlighted that those devices can affect our sleep. For example, the blue light emitted from our mobile/cellular phones, computers, tablets, and even TVs, suppress the production of melatonin in our bodies, which controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm.  Further, most of us tend to use our devices right up to bedtime, and even in bed, which can make it more difficult for our minds to unwind, relax and transition to sleep. Finally, since we might not be inclined to switch off our devices whilst we sleep, or even put them in silent mode, our sleep quality can be affected by the chirps and alerts from those devices throughout the night.

We are becoming socially inept

Are you considerably more comfortable texting people than speaking to them, or meeting them face-to-face? Have you found yourself being bolder (even risque) in your engagement with others whilst texting than what you would typically do in person? Have you observed it others around you? These are just a few of the trends that have emerged in recent years. For those who are a generation (or more) younger, and so would have been exposed to technology at a far earlier age, the impact on their social skills is even more pronounced. To a considerable degree, they have been reared to stay indoors, and so were more likely to occupy themselves watching TV, playing video games and surfing the net, instead of playing outdoors and hanging out with their friends.

Final thoughts

In summary, whilst we, as humans, must (and will) continue to evolve, we may need to better recognise the compromises that unknowingly, we might be making. Being sleep deprived, with shorter attention spans and limited social skills, for example, may ultimately put us at a disadvantage against those who do not possess those deficiencies. Hence although technology might be necessary in our lives, they are just tools. We still need to take control of the quality of our lives and how we experience the world around us.


Image credit:  Linus Bohman (flickr)



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