07 June 2010

the new technological world

I wouldn't say this blog has a particularly pensive character, but this post is in that vein. I've been thinking a lot about this subject today for a few reasons (this, this, this) and wanted to express some of my thoughts related to it. Bear with me. (Or don't. Up to you.)

The article in New York Times called "Your Brain on Computers" was interesting, and the interactive features were entertaining (test your focus and your task-juggling skills). It was also scary. Research has found out a lot about how the brain changes in response to technology use, and some of these changes seem positive; others, not as positive. It seems like a couple of things happen when we are bombarded so heavily with information (and with instant access to it). For one thing, we lose our ability to discern what information is valuable or even true. Why? Our brain automatically responds to new information, and with so many stimuli, we can miss important things because we don't have any hierarchical criteria for classifying this new information. So we try to pay attention to everything.

Another thing that's scary about this phenomenon is that we lose our ability to be real. Again, from the article:
Mr. Nass at Stanford thinks the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room. “The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other,” he said. “It shows how much you care.” That empathy, Mr. Nass said, is essential to the human condition. “We are at an inflection point,” he said. “A significant fraction of people’s experiences are now fragmented.”
For many of us, it is so much easier to interact with a lot people electronically, and I think part of that is purely due to physical distance. It's less powerful than communicating face-to-face. If you're writing an e-mail or a chat, you hardly even have to think about the other person, because that person is only an electronic presence.

And I'm not interested in delving into the vast problem of pornography in this post, but I think it could be said that this form of media dehumanizes relationships in similar ways.

On a similar note, Tim and I were discussing another interesting phenomenon: road rage. I told him about feeling irritated at having to slow down to avoid a pedestrian. Would I actually rather endanger another human in order to not be inconvenienced in my commute? No, I really don't think I would. But it's interesting how much anger I can feel toward this completely innocent person. Why is that so easy? This person can't hear me. And I'm alone in my car. So it seems like it's pretty harmless to shout "You idiot!" and get all worked up over it. And yet, is it harmless?

Online relationships seem to be the same. Because of the distance (emotional, physical, whatever), my interaction with other people when I'm communicating (or not communicating at all--just Facebook-stalking) is so limited that I don't even attempt to control my reaction to their behavior. Things are black and white, with no gray area. Someone is brilliant or daft, but usually daft.


Elizabeth said...

I like this post very much.

Rachel B. said...

Hmm, very interesting. Did you see Elder Bednar's talk in this month's Ensign? It was very similar to this post. Does this mean they're going to tell us to delete our Facebook accounts?! HOW WILL I COMMUNICATE WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD?!

kirsten said...

"...by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room"

Yep...I am reading this blog while headphoned to my computer waiting for the next episode of Lost to load while my husband is headphoned to his computer a few episodes ahead of me...in the same room. I hope this doesn't diminish my empathy for him. Would it make a difference if we were in the same room reading books?

M.C. Sommers said...

I wish you were pensive more often. I like it.

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