Nearly two and a half years ago, we published a post that went “sorta’ viral” you might say. Thanks to a push from WordPress, who put us on their ‘front page’ that day, a post we wrote about the idea of multitasking (found here), or more to the point, our scientifically proven inability to do more than one thing well at a time, garnered a couple thousand hits.
So flash forward from then (Feb. 2010) to now (Aug. 2012) and it appears that while we are texting and tweeting and socially multitasking on more levels than ever before… we’re really no better connected, no better focused, today. And in some cases, it’s making folks crazy.
To begin with, according to a recent article in the Technology section of Newsweek (July 16, 2012 issue), the average teen now processes an astounding 3,700 texts a month. Perhaps, as humorist Andy Borowitz was quoted, “it’s important to turn off our computers and do things in the real world” after all.
At one time, the Internet, broadly speaking, would have been seen as simply another medium. It’s a delivery system. It should make people happier and more productive. Instead, we have the very public meltdown of Jason Russell. You remember him… the guy who put out the most viral video ever, “Kony 2012”, about the African dictator. Shortly after his brief brush with i-fame, he ended up ranting naked in the streets. As the article opines “The same digital tools that supported his mission seemed to tear at his psyche… and ended his relationship with new media.”
Today, Americans stare at their screens at least eight hours a day – more time than we spend even sleeping. Smartphones outnumber the old models, and more than a third of users reportedly get online before getting out of bed. Those 3,700 texts per teen per month, by the way, are double the number of just five years ago. As it turns out, the Internet is not just another delivery system. Are we, instead, creating “people [who] sleepwalk into these technologies and end up glassy-eyed zombies” as Oxford University professor Susan Greenfield states? Does the Internet make us crazy?
Well, while the technology and the content may not, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that our addiction to it just might be. As Peter Whybrow, director of something called the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA argues “the computer is like electronic cocaine” fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches. Sound like anyone you know?
Researchers are finding that such behaviors including anxiety and acting compulsively are occurring among those who consciously know they are doing these things and that they’re not in their best interests, and yet they’re doing them anyways.
While once a near laughable tenet, today the digital connection to depression and anxiety are like an addiction – one that more and more folks are taking seriously. Numerous studies over the past dozen years have confirmed early findings that the more people hang out in the Global Village, the worse they are likely to feel. Heavy web use is being linked to all manner of blue moods, loneliness and depression.
What to do about it? Some would say nothing. Others would argue that there’s not much we can do, besides tuning out. The very nature of “relationships” changes when we find ourselves tracking the posts of 500 or more ‘friends’.
Sensory overload? The velocity of life is exacerbated by our modern, marvelous tools. The tools themselves are not so much the problem as the hands they are in – or perhaps better, the minds they are affecting. America runs on Xanax… we succumb to the “false rescue” of multitasking… we accept the Internet and our relationship with it without much evaluation of the results, or conscious thought about what we want it to be for us. And all the while, the pace just seems to increase.
“With our minds in the balance” (as the Newsweek author Tony Dokoupil put it succinctly) the question becomes: What do we want to do about it? How we use the Internet and the tools of the modern age are our choices to shape. Better think about it – while thinking is still in vogue.