By Blair Scott
Does communication technology distort how we perceive each other? While reading a book called Your Brain on Nature (2012), I came across the statement that people who spend excessive time on the internet actually perceive the human face differently over time. The result is a dulling of sensations in “the real world,” and a disconnection from the emotional cues of others. Since the mass spread of iPhones - and society’s obvious dependence on the internet as a main source of information - I have been skeptical of the relationship between humans and these new forms of technology. Although the benefit of convenience is obvious, the mixed social consequences blur my optimism.
I have a friend who is doing her Master’s Degree on the effects of social media use on people’s mental landscapes. She is exploring how it affects our mental and social health, particularly. Some of the proven side-effects of heavy internet use include anxiety, restlessness, and an insatiable desire to always know more. Another side-effect appears to be social disconnection (which is paradoxical, seeing as these technologies are supposed to increase social connection). But maybe it would be more accurate to say that they have increased the convenience of social connection, as well as control over how people present themselves.
As much as I agree that the internet is a highly valuable tool, I am ambivalent to fully embrace the infiltration of “smart devices” in our culture. They always seem to be there - lingering somewhere in the background. They tell you where to go…they tell you the definition of anything you need to know. Of course, these things are useful, but in practice, I’ve observed a fine line between “useful information” and “wasteful distraction.” Quality social time seems to be compromised, as a result of excessive cell-phone and internet consumption. The internet is also a tool for ego indulgence, if you consider the time people spend perfecting their profiles on Facebook, and perhaps, dating websites.
Yet, at the same time, it may be one of the most democratic marks of our culture. Even though the “free-for-all” of the internet gives way to a lot of scams and misinformation, it has given us the power to research information in a more efficient, user-friendly manner (the ease and handiness of Google’s infinite omniscience, for instance). Furthermore, it gives us the opportunity to easily market ourselves; the flexibility to work or study from home. The internet is also the pivotal force driving the “all-in-one device” movement - a revolutionary stepping stone for information access, and convenience.
Contrary to what some might argue, I don’t feel that all of these devices have made us authentically smarter, or better at communicating. A lot of my skepticism heightens, especially, when I see the younger generation walking around, like zombies, with their eyes glued to their devices. These kids have grown up with the idea that cell phones, and the internet, are essentials to life. They often seem socially disinterested and disconnected, lacking an energetic engagement with their true environment. However, the argument for usefulness, alone, is enough to silence any pessimism. The internet is the most revolutionary tool of our time. There is no going back.
So, I am torn between the vast wonders of this technology, and my uncertainty about the progressive costs of its filtering, and distancing, of raw human connection. How can we humans - or the world for that matter - compete with the instant gratification of the internet?
Blair Scott is a Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, who loves writing poetry. In recent times, she has become interested in the analysis of various sources of health literature, and how consumers come to terms with this multitude of information. Blair currently works at a health food store, but aspires to become a freelance contract writer and editor.