This editorial originally appeared February 17, 2012, in issue 2007.
Are you ?addicted? to technology?
According to a new study, you may be?and it may not be your fault. After all, the study found, social media like Twitter is ?as addictive as cigarettes.? How can we fight that kind of power?
we’re glued to our ?CrackBerrys.? Married to our iPhones. Obsessed with Angry Birds, Twitter, RSS feeds, blogging, 24-7 information. We joke about it, but at the same time we’re serious. We know we have a problem.
But what exactly is it?
?Addiction? is a pretty strong word. There’s often an element of chemical dependency involved in something like drug or cigarette addictions, and it seems rather far-fetched to claim definitively that social networking itself chemically alters our brains. And though the compulsive use of Facebook could suggest emotional dependence?in the sense that we’re driven to it, unhappy without it?it doesn’t follow that the media itself is to blame for the ?addictive? behaviour.
And yet there’s something there that just can’t be dismissed. We impulsively check and re-check. Are we addicted to technology? Or is it a stand-in for something else?
Recently I came to a realization. I was stuck in a long line at the mall. My phone battery had died. As I stood waiting, waiting, waiting, I realized something alarming: I don’t know how to just do one thing anymore. Technology makes frenzied multi-multi-tasking more possible, but It’s not responsible for it.
I’m addicted to multi-tasking.
It’s time to stop blaming our devices. In fact, a fascinating article in The Atlantic argues that blaming electronics for our frenzied pace and our inability to connect with each other and the world around us actually makes things worse.
Lately, the author points out, there’s been a trend toward a ?digital Sabbath,? a regular time when we unplug ourselves. It’s supposed to be freeing, a break from the constant connectedness of our daily lives. A backlash against some of our culture’s social problems. Such a time of restoration sounds ideal. How can it be damaging?
Because it creates a fake solution, the author argues?a band-aid on the problem?instead of addressing real issues. By making technology the scapegoat for our inattentiveness, she says, ?[we] absolve ourselves of the need to create social, political, and, sure, technological structures that allow us to have the kinds of relationships we want with the people around us.? What we need, she continues, is to evaluate our obligations, relationships, and priorities?and go on from there.
Multi-tasking is good, to a point. The line is crossed when we can’t focus on just one priority, even if It’s a crucial, human thing like family relationships. Our smart phones make multi-tasking easy, but we can text or talk or chat or read our Twitter feed. Or have a real-life conversation. We don’t need to do it all at once. We can choose to carve out exclusive time for the highest priorities in our lives, whether we’re pursuing them face to face or online.
Technology is a great tool for interpersonal communication; it is a means of connecting like never before. We don’t necessarily need less technology. We just need to learn to manage it better.