Phones. Millennials. Television. You've heard the spiel. It's hard to avoid speaking with your grandparents without them droning on about losing the newer generations to the screens. Well, there is some truth to their tales. Look on the internet and you’ll find millions of articles ranting about how modern technology is affecting the minds of our youth and turning them into a hoard of brainwashed screen driven zombies. Well, they are not wrong. In order to grasp just how much this wave of technology has truly impacted our lives and the way we live and interact with the world, we must understand how it’s not what we are seeing on the internet that is clouding our minds, it is what we are not seeing off the screens.
Enter any waiting room, be it a gynecologist or an auto body shop, and you’ll see necks bent, eyes glued, hands clutching a small pocket sized device. The problem is as clear as day; many of us are incapable of disconnecting. Now, why is this? Why do people scroll through their Facebook feed four times through, vewing the same pictures and posts over and over again? Why do people resort to reading spam emails that they will eventually just move to the trash? This phenomenon is a little something I call “boredom.” Excuse my anecdote, but when I was little whenever I claimed I was bored, my mother would get annoyed and list twenty things I could be doing to ease my boredom. When we are in a waiting room, what is it that we are doing? Waiting. When do people get the most bored? When they are waiting. The only thing that we can think of to do in this situation to make the grueling pain of boredom cease is to pull out our devises and occupy our minds with the vast supply of information called in the internet. Now one might question what the big deal is of wanting to occupy our minds and search for information to broaden our minds. Well, there really is nothing wrong with searching for knowledge, but it becomes a problem when we are using this search to quench our boredom… or more dangerously to use them as avoidance. The people hunched over their phones in the waiting rooms are not allowing themselves to sit in contemplation or even look at the world around them. Instead of sitting in peace, we as humans of the 21st century insist on filling our minds with inputs rather than exposing our minds to the unknown world around us. So why do we do this?
When we scroll through an account on Instagram or research a specific topic, we know what we are getting. We are seeking out what we want to know, with full disclosure of what our brains will be processing. When we sit in silence, away from our devices, we are allowing our brains the liberty of thinking of anything that pops into our minds. You could say that in a way that our unoccupied brains are a wildcard that we unconsciously fear. There is a reason that people spend hours binge-watching Netflix when they have some free time alone, go out with friends when they go through a breakup, or put on a playlist when stressed out. Humans are masters of avoidance. We will do anything to mask the pain and discomfort that plague our lives. Technology is convenient way to mask any unpleasantness that we may feel. An unoccupied brain is an open door for unpleasant thoughts. We don’t know that we do this, but we subconsciously fill our minds with stimuli because many of us our afraid of where our own minds will wander, let alone what will wander into our minds themselves.
A woman sitting in a waiting room is researching different salsa recipes for her family’s barbeque this upcoming weekend as she is waiting to be called in to get her eyebrows waxed. As her eyes surf the internet, now on the 20th recipe, her mind is distracted from her own life. Yesterday her brother called to tell her he was being shipped out to Iraq, so she will not see him for at least a year… who will now be her trusted confidant? At work her normal flirty boss is beginning to get a little too hands on… should she tell her husband? Her 16-year-old daughter just started dating this guy named Kyle who is 19… should she step in and advise her daughter to stop seeing him to trust her daughter to make the right decision? Should she be worried about the countless evenings she spends “studying” with him? The rash on her leg is getting worse… could this be related to her family’s history of skin cancer? As the woman scrolls through countless salsa recipes, her mind is not on any of these troubling topics. The most worrisome thought on her mind is deciding on whether to make a spicy salsa or one more mild. Not only does technology ease our boredom, it is also used as a tool to distract our wandering minds from the troubling thoughts that may wander in. This method of distraction is detrimental to our psyches. We need to learn how to cope with our troubles, not use distractions to mask our pain. This method of avoidance also in avertedly blocks out the positive stimuli, causing us to miss out on the beauty of life and leaving us as disconnected zombies.
When we are constantly occupying our brains with technology, we are disconnecting ourselves from the world around us. You may think that viewing pictures on your tablet of Machu Picchu pales in comparison to looking at the small garden at the park, but it is the real events that we experience through our own eyes that shape us into the people that we are and create our views on the world.
A man sitting on a a park bench reading emails on his phone may miss the sighting of a rare bird that sparks his interest in birding and zoology. There is a severe gap growing between humans and our environment. Technology is a barrier between us and nature, or example when a person bends down to take a photograph of a flower but never actually smalls it. Nature is in our roots, literally and figuratively. Understanding that the roots of trees stretch beneath the paved sidewalks that we walk on is a small but important example of how we walk all over our world with little understanding on how we are doing so. Humans must connect to nature and appreciate its beauty if we are ever to take steps to protecting the environment. When we introduce technology to our relationship with the environment, we never truly connect with the earth that we live on.
Technology robs us of our own own experiences, disconnecting us from the world and in turn taking a toll on our traits such as compassion and empathy. Humans learn these traits through real life experiences and interactions with others, and when we are isolating ourselves from these interactions we are slowly losing touch with our core values and eventually; humanity. Many people claim that the “world has gone to hell” and that since technology has been on the rise, so has crime. Contrary to what the public thinks, the FBI database shows that there are no trends showing an increase in crimes or mass shootings recorded since 1976. The fact of the matter is that humans have always been a violent and cruel species since the beginning of time; slavery, the Holocaust, beheadings, etc. However, technology has indeed had an impact on human’s humanity which can be noticed on a much smaller scale. Technology has brought out the worst in us, as displayed on social media. There are websites created with their only aim to personally tear down an individual, destroying their self-esteem and confidence. Comments under pictures display vulgar language that would never be spoken aloud if not through the screen. People voice every personal emotion and offensive opinion they have on platforms such as Twitter, sometimes retweeted millions of times. This is the generation of speak, share, and repeat. Where is the humanity in clicking “share” on a tweet poking fun at Rachel’s new haircut? If we aren’t laughing at something, we are angry at something. Laughter and anger is the new language of social media that we all find ourselves hungry for. With the constant stimuli of the internet, we are numb to reality of this destructive and unnecessary form of communication. There are entire websites dedicated to dissecting the lives of celebrities and exposing various insignificant secrets about them. We live in world where everyone is the paparazzi of their own lives, always capturing events through pictures and posts and sharing them with the surrounding world. It has gotten to the point where someone cannot go to a new location without uploading a picture. I was at an ice cream shop in Boston that sculpts ice cream into the shape of flowers, and a girl bought one and spent 15 minutes posing while her friend took countless pictures of her. By the time they were finished, her ice cream had melted away, along with her appetite. Where are the days where you can eat your food or stand on the edge of a pier without snapping a picture?
Exploring the way humans interact and are impacted by technology is much more complex then labeling the new generations as “disconnected zombies.” The use of technology as a method to ease boredom and avoid unpleasant thoughts is causing a severe gap between the world around us and the screen. This barrier is a wall that is constantly expanding and growing in height, with every passing minute making it harder to tear down. However, fear not! All hope is not lost. The growing volume of anti-social media/phone usage articles show that we as humans are taking notice of how destructive excessive use of technology can be. There are many movements such as minimalism and practices such as yoga that focus on decluttering one’s life and finding peace with the world around you. One can even make small changes in their lives such as limiting the time on social media and taking time out of their day to take a walk outside or a short drive with the music off and windows down. It is the little things that will make a significant change in the future, and hold promises of a better relationship of technology. So now as I sit here ironically writing my opinions on the internet, I am going to turn off my computer and step outside. Fear not, for the future is bright if you make it so.