Response to kromps: Control It Before It Controls Us

I liked your post on how technology today is distracting people from more actively engaging in life.

In looking for a related post that I had read once, I stumbled across this which is an even better article than the one I was looking for (It’s NY Times, so sorry if you can’t access it, they only allow you to look at 10 articles a month without paying): http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html?pagewanted=all

In this article the author describes how we’ve traded “conversation” for “connection”. Keeping those that we know connected through digital media allows us to keep people at a comfortable distance; not too close and not too far away. We can also clean up those interactions, and present ourselves the way we want to be.

However, the author notes, “We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.”

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And what’s worse is that as we start to change our habits to accommodate our connectedness, we lose the ability to converse normally with others, as well as the solitude that allows us to collect ourselves and self-reflect.

Thinking back to the kids sitting with their iPhones outside, I wonder how many young people have actually spent time “in their own mind”, so to speak. While I don’t want to get too philosophical, it is now the case that you never have to be without active input from the outside world. You could never have to feel unconnected or alone, but what does that do to the way your mind handles itself?

I had a roommate once who needed loud movies and TV shows (I mean loud, I could feel the floor shake from the speakers sometimes) and energy drinks to fall asleep (Don’t ask me, apparently it helped though). He needed enough noise to drown out his mind to be able to comfortably sleep. While this is an extreme example, and the cause for these needs may not be directly related to overuse of technology, it reminds me of the fear to be truly alone with yourself. How many people feel comfortable without having anything to do or anything to listen to or anyone to talk to? Of course it might be boring to a degree, but I feel that many have developed an un-examined fear of boredom (another roommate I’ve had described boredom as “the worst feeling in the world”.  Maybe this is a problem that only affects people I end up rooming with. If that’s the case I wonder what that says about me.) Perhaps it’s when we are alone and unprompted that we are truly left with ourselves, and the thought of facing who we are is scarier than just continuing to be spoon-fed distractions.

Of course, even as I type this, I am checking Facebook and Tumblr and listening to music on Spotify. My phone is right next to me and every time I hear it buzz I check it. I live with 6 other people in a house, and my door is closed. Because I am focusing on writing my blog post, even though I am also simultaneously distracted by many things in the process. But I can stop it when I need to; put it on pause or let it sit if I am in the middle of a sentence. If someone wanted to walk in and have a conversation (as does happen sometimes) it’s rarely on a subject that I’m much interested in talking about at the moment, and unless I want to seem rude I can’t interrupt the interaction to work on this post. So the digital world allows me to have a respite and maintain some interaction with others (those I choose to interact with in this case) without committing to something that will take too much time and focus away from what I’m doing.

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As with many things I suppose there are two sides to it. However, next time I am with people, I think I will make sure I am present in the conversation and enjoy it for what it is.

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