The New York Times published an article in which they quoted Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, stating, “The technology is rewiring our brains.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html) She is referring to the overuse of technology as an addiction. The article also explains that when we interact with technology our brains give off a “dopamine squirt”. Are we addicted to technology? I vote yes. Is it a bad thing comparable to drug and alcohol addiction? This may take some more thought. This week I will consistently update this blog posting to reflect how I feel about addiction to technology.
My Initial Thoughts and Considerations
I grew up in a household where the television was in the basement and the “family room” was upstairs where we ate, slept, and spent most of our time. We had no “TV trays” and couldn’t bring our Gameboys to the table. Yesterday evening as my husband and I sat down to dinner so did the iPad. As we discussed the days events he updated his games and searched the news. As we wrapped up the meal I checked my old text messages to find out when we had friends coming back into town. Cleaning up, we listened to iHeartRadio and then sat down to watch a new show on Netflix, during which we updated our “The Simpsons” app village that we have been building for the last year. I am sure we both checked emails and texts throughout the evening and our Facebooks at least twice before going to sleep with our iPhones on our bedside tables. Addiction? YES, but is it bad? Today I feel as though it may be obsessive and could possibly require some analysis of our evening priorities.
After completing my reading of chapter 2 of Rheingold’s “Net Smart”, I developed a list of rules as I relate to technological addiction. 1. No virtual socializing while physically socializing, 2. Set timed parameters for social media (including online and TV), 3. No touching the phone while driving, 4. Be more “off” than “on”, and 5. Remember to breathe. I have determined that if I cannot live by these rules, maybe technology is ruling my life like alcohol may rule an addict. If I cannot take time to focus on my daily activities and those who are physically in front of me without getting my “media fix” maybe technology does use me instead of me using it. For the next five days I will focus on these five rules and see if it alters my life or if I have been unconsciously following them all along.
Not that I haven’t noticed the constant use of mobile devices at work, at play, and at social events, but when you really pay attention to them, they are everywhere. They are used at dinner tables, in bathrooms, by drivers, even by homeless. They are used when you are awake, to wake up, when you are lost, when you are going somewhere and when you arrive. For one week I decided to put mine away. In May I visited Lanai’i and turned my phone off when I arrived at the airport and did not turn it on until I arrived home. Was this a problem? Yes it was. It turns out my return flight had been cancelled and the airline had been trying to reach me via phone and email. Fail on my part. However, the absolutely serenity of never reaching for my phone in a moment of silence or while waiting on dinner was amazing. I noticed people and places that had my eyes been staring into my phone I might not have noticed. There are socially acceptable times to use your mobile devices. The effort to be socially turned “on” and virtually turned “off” is hard work, but it is sometimes equally as difficult to hold a conversation with someone while they are texting.
The Wandering Mind
During a trip to town today my husband and I discussed all of the following topics: dingos, Italy, population density, the Kremlin, and the issue of sex trafficking in Hawaii and Canada. Yes, our topics seem to jump around just as much as an ill-plotted google search. Even without technology our minds wander from topic to topic in such a sporadic manner that when we stop to consider the thoughts or conversations of the day, or even the last five minutes, we cannot help but notice that we are not focused creatures. So, the ability to intensely focus on a topic without slipping may not have much to do with an addiction to technology as it does to our mind’s ability to jump seemingly aimlessly until we catch it and hold it still.
Rheingold states that, “Not drowning is not the same as swimming”. (Rheingold, 98) What he is referring to is the ability to know when to allow distractions to occur and when to bring your attention back to the task at hand. As I have focused on prioritizing my actions this week, it has become apparent that the skill takes continued work. Though I haven’t mastered the skill, I feel that I am not “addicted” to technology and can function on a regular basis with limited access to text messaging, social media, and email.