Technology Doesn't Ruin Our Lives, We Do
Following the spate of "Internet is ruining our lives" articles that blame technology for all of our social, mental, and emotional woes, a new narrative has emerged that takes the burden off of our gadgets and puts it on ourselves.
Following the spate of "Internet is ruining our lives" articles that blame technology for all of our social, mental, and emotional woes, a new narrative has emerged that takes the burden off of our gadgets and puts it on ourselves. Take this Anil Dash blog post about JOMO, or the joy of missing, that's getting passed around the Internet today. "So often, we point the finger at our technologies for creating the fears, the insecurities, the tensions that arise in our social lives as they get increasingly run by social software," he writes. Dash, however, has another theory about the way technology affects our lives: "But if tech is to blame for our feelings (and I'm not sure I want to concede that point), then certainly we can make apps and sites and software that makes us joyously celebrate for the good time that our friends and loved ones and even complete strangers are having when they go about living their lives," he says. It's not "technology" that's doing this to us, it's the way we're using it. It's us.
We don't want to believe it's us though because that would suggest we did something wrong. So, instead we blame the Internet and the gadgets that have made it a ubiquitous part of our lives. The Web is driving us mad. It's also making us "lonely,"single" (which is a euphemism for lonely), and "disconnected." These articles use a mix of science and anecdotes to legitimize these feelings. The things did this to us! Dash's post, for example, is a response to a year-old article about the way technology has made us anxious about missing out. The thesis: Social media has worsened our FOMO (fear of missing out). "If you didn’t know that party was going on, you’d be home contentedly reading your latest New Yorker. But since you do, you hungrily watch each new tweet," wrote Caterina Fake. It's the apps that are stressing us out, she argues.
It all makes sense when read in its nicely packaged vacuum, but, maybe we shouldn't give humanity such a break. Beyond the problems with the science behind these calls against tech, humans are are the ones doing the tweeting and texting and chatting. If we're unhappy, maybe we're doing something wrong, as Dash posits, calling for some future technology that will strengthen the right emotional bonds. But, in fact, those tools already exist, in The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal's opinion. They happen to be the same things that are ruining everything -- a point he makes in this satirical "Confessions of an Internet Addict." After going through a day of his "addiction"he notes the way it has improved his relationships. "Still, in talking with Madrigal, you'd find that literally dozens of online, Twitterified connections had leapt from the world of his addiction to the pure, happy world of 'in real life,'" he writes. "If he was addicted to Twitter and the Internet, he said, it was to these people that he was addicted. They are his favorite drug," he concludes. Social networking doesn't have to be the anxiety inducing social sphere Flake has found herself a part of. Rather, the way we use our devices determines our lifestyles.
We don't get to decide all of our technology use, of course. The way the world works these modern days, we have to spend more time on e-mail and our computers than ever, a point Newsweek's Tony Doukopil made in his version of the Internet destroying humanity story. "It’s not quite free choice that drives most young corporate employees (45 and under) to keep their BlackBerrys in the bedroom within arms’ reach, per a 2011 study; or free choice, per another 2011 study, that makes 80 percent of vacationers bring along laptops or smartphones so they can check in with work while away," he writes, noting most of us don't want to be on here all day. But even in that scenario, can we really blame the BlackBerry? In a separate post, Alexis Madrigal again argues: No. "To elide that one of the reasons we spend so many hours in front of our screens is that we have to misses the key point about our relationship with modern technology," he writes. "This is a problem with the way we approach labor, not our devices," he writes. In other words: This is about humans, not technology.
But, making technology the source of all evil makes dealing with our problems easier. The solution to gadget addiction: Meditation. The solution to structural employment issues: "Organize politically and in civil society to change our collective relationship to work," per Madrigal.