By Dr. Carol McGaughey
In our interconnected society where the number of daily tweets, texts, calls, and emails is only exceeded by the number of daily heartbeats per person on this planet, it would seem that digital communication is now key in society. Individuals’ fingers fly with alacrity gliding over tiny symbols that instantly convey thoughts faster than a mythological messenger with a Titan on his trail, lol. Although Oscars are awarded for the best acting, directing, and movie of a particular year, more individuals find their entertainment from You Tube rather than from congregating in one place to sit together for hours without talking. The iPad, Kindle Fire, and Nook are identifiable to most, yet a decade ago each term or phrase would have held an entirely different meaning. In the not- so- distant past, if the elevator doors opened and the person inside was talking to himself, you might hesitate to enter. Now, the realization is Bluetooth, another interesting addition to the lexicon.
If digital communication is key, then spending our days raptly attentive to each ping of a message, jumping from screen to screen to peruse the news, weather, and sports in edible bites, and staring at devices emanating light is perfectly logical. People need responses to their messages, we need to know what is going on in our world, and we love our devices that make staying connected so easy. In fact, we buy them accessories, both external and internal.
In the midst of this daily deluge of digital detail, is there a point when communication crosses the line to compulsion or when information becomes excess? Can we even imagine not having our “phones”-which actually can now take the place of almost every other device except a microwave? In a study conducted by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda, 200 students at the University of Maryland were asked to stop using all electronic media for 24 hours and to describe the experience through personal blogs. Here is a sample of what some students had to say:
“When I don’t have [my cell phone] on my person, sometimes it can feel like I am missing a limb because I feel so disconnected from all the people who I think are contacting me, but really they aren’t half the time.”
“On a psychological note, my brain periodically went crazy because I found at times that I was so bored I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
That feeling of emotional dependence on digital devices is the research focus of Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and the founder of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self. She investigates how devices are changing the way parents relate to their children, how friends interact, and why many people, both young and old, keep their devices in-hand all the time, even as they sleep. In her book, Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other, Turkle examines these changes. She concludes that the next generation will need to chart the path between isolation and connectivity.
So, in this era where digital communication seems key, perhaps we need to examine the ever increasing bond we have with our own devices and be sure we are using them as the tools they are intended to be and not as substitutes for experiencing the richness of interaction with our family, friends, and faith. What, no FaithTime app?