Throughout the past week I’ve tried to tackle the question, should we embrace our increasing use of technology, or discourage it? Modern technology has given us a lot to be thankful for. My dad always tells me about how when he was in college, the only way he could communicate back home was by letter. I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to call my mom whenever I want (which probably isn’t as much as she’d like). My parents never had social media to connect with friends, promote their work, and follow the people that inspire them.
When we take in a great view, we can now share it with all of our friends on Instagram and keep a gallery of our life. Arguments are now solved in 10 seconds with a quick Google search. When I want to pick up a new skill I can take a class online, or watch YouTube videos on the subject. Within the next few years we’ll see the rise in virtual and augmented reality, giving us the ability to alter what we see. We are living in the most advanced period in American history, and technology will continue to improve. However, with all of the technology at our disposal, I’m wondering if we’re forgetting to be human.
The TED Talk shown above is a quick 8 minute talk from Amber Case. Amber is a cyborg anthropologist who studies how our culture interacts with technology. She believes our devices are demanding our attention and keeping us from doing what we’re designed to do, be human. There are a few key points she makes about how our phones are controlling our lives.
How Cell-Phones Control Our Life
Creation of Two Selves
With the emergence of social media, we now not only have to maintain ourselves in the analog world, but the digital world as well. Just as you have to wake up, take a shower, and get dressed, you have to monitor your social media and email accounts as well. The first thing most of us do when we wake is check our phones to see what we missed while we slept. Our digital selves can be reached even when we sleep, so we wake up and respond to text messages, tweets, and emails. We also have to maintain these “digital selves” we’ve created, we post Snapchat stories to let our friends know what we’re doing at all times. When we go on vacations we post Instagram pictures to show people where we are.
How many times have you deleted an old picture of Facebook because it was embarrassing? This is us monitoring our online selves and maintaining a good image. The same thing goes for college students who wake up and delete their drunken snap story from the night before. This routine is becoming an issue, we have enough trouble taking care of ourselves in the analog world, dealing with digital as well is taking over our lives.
No Time for Reflection
The last post in my old blog was about why I reflect. It’s important to me to reflect how far I’ve come as a person compared to where I was last week, month, or even year. Before technology became this advanced, reflection was about all you could do. People sat around fires and reflected on their days. Even as a kid I remember I would sit in the living room with my family and we’d talk about whatever was on our mind. Now that time is filled with social media, we lay in bed checking what other people are doing until we fall asleep, spending no time in reflection. Amber makes an amazing point in the TED Talk, when there is no external input, that’s when we find out who we are. When we aren’t scrolling social media, no one is telling us what to do, we sit with ourselves and figure out who we are.
This is why I’ve stressed the importance of meditation, it requires you to sit with yourself, and notice your thoughts. We stop identifying ourselves with our thoughts, and start noticing why we are having them. Once we’ve spent enough time with ourselves and realize who we are, then we can figure out how to present our “digital self” in an authentic manner.
Make Us Feel the Need to Escape
Our phones have given us the ability to escape from boring places. We can all agree that waiting in line is boring. I’m really not sure what people did in line before phones existed. Did people actually talk to each other, or just stand in silence? While I may have to call my mom for that answer, we do know that in today’s society when we are in line we are on our phones. It gives us the chance to escape from the boring world, into a familiar digital one.
Walking down the street is also a boring task, which is why we see everyone staring down at their phones to escape. The same logic applies to driving, which as you know, is a real problem. This process of “escaping”, takes away our sensory perceptions. Walking down the street now consist of near collisions with people staring at their phones. We aren’t doing the human task of walking down the street and focusing on that, we are using our phones to cure our boredom. After listening to the TED podcast Screen Time, I decided to take a break from walking with my phone and see what I noticed. Not surprisingly I was almost hit by 4-5 college students on my 5 minute walk because they were all staring down at their phones.
While it may seem difficult and boring, be human. While we created the tools to take away our attention, we also have created the tools to regain it.
Steps to Take Back Control
It wouldn’t be a Ben Gerow blog post without an app recommendation. The app Moment (which is free) helps you “Put down your phone and get back to your life”. While installing an app may seem counter intuitive to using your phone less, it actually doesn’t require you to do anything to be in use. You simply install the app, let it run in the background, and it will tell you how much you’ve used your phone that day (and you can see how that stacks up to the previous days). If your number is green then you know you’ve been using it an appropriate amount that day, yellow you’re pushing it, and red you know you need to put it down more.
This may be the single biggest reason I’ve been putting my phone down more often. When I first installed the app I was at about 3 hours a day, which I was not comfortable with. I sleep 8 hours a night so 19% of my day was spent looking at my phone screen. I’ve been using the app to get that number to around 12.5% which I can deal with. I’ve encouraged my friends to use the app so we can compare and I’d like to send a special shoutout to Joey Balcom who managed to use his phone for 9 hours in one day.
Turn Off the Power
Remember when you were a kid and the power would go out? No lights in the house, no computer, no TV, no WiFi, it was like you went back to the stone age. The funny thing about those nights for me is that they were some of the best of my childhood. Instead of playing Playstation, watching TV, or sitting on my computer, I would spend those nights with my family. We’d get flashlights and candles, play board games, read, and talk. As we all know, after a few days of the power being out, it starts to become more of a hassle than it’s worth, but for that one night it’s perfect.
Unfortunately, when I have kids they won’t know what that feeling is like. With underground power lines, generators, and future technologies to come, they won’t have to spend days without power. But why do we have to rely on a big storm to give us that feeling of connection to the people living in the house with us? My suggestion is for one night, or even one hour, turn off the power. Today I’m going hiking with my roommate and will not be bringing my phone with me. No Snapchat stories to let everyone know what my view looks like, no checking emails, it’ll just be a few hours in nature. I recommend everyone do something similar every week, find even just an hour to not use electronics. Sit out on your balcony with a friend, no phones, no TV, and reflect
Turn Off Notifications
The problem with having multiple social media and email accounts, is that you let people control your time. Being busy is an illusion. In our society the person with the busiest schedule is seen to be successful, and an empty schedule means you are lazy. As I’ve learned through college the opposite seems to be true. We fill our calendars with events we don’t want to go to, and make commitments that take away from our creative outlets. This semester I’ve cleared my schedule so I spend time focusing on what makes me the best version of myself.
As I mentioned before, the first thing most of us do when we wake up is check our emails and social media messages. This allows other people to control our schedule. All of a sudden we have to spend time to respond and most likely set up meetings. When you’re going about your day and you get a notification from Facebook, you’re letting it take away your time. Group Me (group messaging app) takes more time from college students than any other app. We are constantly getting updates from group projects, friend groups, organizations, and having to respond. The simplest way to escape this madness it to turn off notifications. When you are ready to respond and have the time, then you can check what you’ve missed. Otherwise, you’re letting everyone else tell you what to do.
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