Who decides what brings you joy?
In the modern world, our lives are buzzing with messages that come from other people and organizations that want to influence us. Whether they are advertisers, social media personalities (influencers!), friends, employers, or the characters in movies and television shows, any or all of them may an effect on decisions you make about your own mental well-being. In this assignment, you will read an article that focuses on the role of technology in modern society and then think about how technology and design have shaped the way you live. Then you will analyze those effects in your conclusion.
[Post on one or more of these to the discussion board.]
Life in the Age of Screens
In the early 2000s, sociologists became interested in the role of technology in people’s lives. Social media, smartphones, and online games were entering mainstream culture, and these exciting new forms of entertainment dramatically changed how people spent time. People started having fewer face-to-face conversations and more interaction through screens. Was this a good thing or a cause for alarm?
Many researchers set out to answer this basic question. They did field work, took surveys, and observed interactions in schools, at home, and in public places. Their work is ongoing, but already there are some very interesting theories about humans and screens. It turns out that humans are attracted to the sense of control that technology can provide. But at what cost?
Why we text
One of these researchers is Sherry Turkle. The MIT sociologist turned her investigations into a book called Alone Together. In herbook and public talks, she explains why people started choosing texting over phone calls. According to Turkle, texting allows people to control the conversation. They can revise and edit what they say. They can also choose when to communicate and how much time they want to spend. When they are done communicating, they can just stop answering a text. They also do not have to listen to any boring or uncomfortable parts of a conversation. In a 2012 TED Talk, she described a 15-year-old boy who said, “Someday, I’d like to learn to have a conversation, but not now.” For this teenager and many other subjects, texting removed much of the emotion from the interaction and was therefore easier to handle than a real conversation.
In a different example, Turkle emphasized the potential downside of texting. In an NPR interview with Terry Gross, she talked about a young man who wanted to cancel a dinner with his grandparents. When his mother told him to call them and explain, he hesitated. In a real time phone conversation, he heard the emotion in their voices and sensed their excitement about spending time with him. The phone call created an emotional connection, and he changed his mind. He promised to visit them. Turkle explains this might not have happened if he had just texted that he couldn’t make it.
The attraction of robot friends
People can also avoid messy human connections by turning to robots. Many companies now offer social robots that can serve as the “perfect” companion. The robot might be a voice in a phone or a device such as Alexa or Echo. It could also appear in a plastic human-like body or look like a soft furry animal.
Turkle sees something strange about this increase in electronic companionship. To her, it means that people are looking for the comfort of a friendship without the demands of a relationship. They hope technology will provide the perfect solution: a friend that is always available, always easy, and never needs anything in return.
Turkle finds this trend disturbing because it can lead to a culture where people do not depend on other people. They might care less about others as a result. A robot friend might make life easier, but it also might make life less meaningful. People will not have the joy of being needed. They might ask for and give fewer favors, and their friends and family members will have fewer opportunities to show their loyalty and love.
Concerns about Digital Addiction
While technology may give a sense of control, many researchers believe people need to be aware of its potential negative effects. Adam Alter is a social psychologist who argues that we should not think of addiction as just chemical. We should also think about it as behavioral. In his book, Irresistible: The Rise of Additive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, Alter explains that digital addictions can affect the brain in the same way as drug addictions. Alter is concerned that millions of people around the world, especially children, are at risk. Fortunately, some countries are passing laws designed to protect society from the harmful effects of screens.
In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized gaming addiction as a mental health disorder. This does not mean that all gamers are mentally ill, but it does show that online gaming can become a problem. The WHO describes the condition as “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” In other words, when gaming has a negative effect on a person’s real life, that person may have a disorder that needs treatment.
Even industry professionals are concerned about screen time. Justin Rosenstein is one of them. In an interview with the Guardian, he admitted to putting parental controls on his own phone because he wanted to stop himself from downloading apps. Rosenstein is an interesting example because he invented the like button on Facebook. Now he feels regret. He believes the like feature is addictive and he worries about the fact that the average user now touches their phone more than two thousand times a day. He says the compulsion to go online and stay online is just as the designers intended.
Social media has become successful at giving people the little dopamine hit that keeps them engaged with their phone, yet research suggests that spending time on these platforms makes people less happy. There is even an acronym for this. FOMO stands for Fear of Missing Out, and it reflects the way people feel when they say their friends at a party or even that they were not part of. It might feel good to post a picture of oneself having fun with friends, but it doesn’t feel good to be the person who sees it and wasn’t there.
What about virtual meetings?
If social media is not be the best way to combat loneliness, technology is always coming up with new solutions. Today, anyone with Internet and a digital device can engage with others through apps such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. They can see the faces of their friends and relatives, share meals, tell jokes and even play games. During the Corona virus epidemic, people even began holding major life events such as virtual weddings, graduations and funerals.
The convenience of virtual meeting applications is a lifesaver because the software provides connections in a time when people cannot meet in person, yet it still has drawbacks in the form of something called Zoom fatigue. According to Andrew Franklin, an assistant professor of cyberpsychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University, “the pandemic has launched an unofficial social experiment, showing at a population scale what’s always been true: virtual interactions can be extremely hard on the brain.
It turns out that when we share physical space, humans enjoy abundant non-verbal communication that involves tone of voice, gesture, eye contact, even breath. These often unconscious messages communicate many important elements that words cannot including feelings, intentions, urgency, whether we have time to talk or want to move on. In other words, when we are onscreen, we cannot fully represent our intentions toward the relationship. In an article for National Geographic, Julia Sklar, sums it up nicely. “Since humans evolved as social animals, perceiving these [non-verbal] cues comes naturally to most of us, takes little conscious effort to understand, and can lay the groundwork for emotional intimacy.”
Without these signals people have to pay more attention to words instead, which is an incomplete picture of the message. For many people, the goal of the conversation goes beyond the exchange of information to forging a deep connection. According to Sklar, this is even more difficult on multi-person screens. The brain has to consciously focus attention which can be exhausting. In the end, most experts agree that people need to find a balance. Turkle is a consultant to technology companies, and Rosenstein continues to work with computers. Like most experts, they understand that devices are necessary and useful tools of the modern world. However, conversation and human connection are also important in the 21st century. People may simply need to make a conscious effort to include it in their lives.
You can also add notes from the article in Final Draft3 about the effects of oversharing on social media platforms if that catches your attention.
|Notes on my example
First, I drew a circle with my phone in the middle.
Second, I started drawing bubbles coming out from the middle and wrote different ways I use my phone.
Third, I added a few details to each.
Fourth, I put stars next to the ones I thought were interesting.
Fifth, I wrote them in the lower right in red. Those would be my body paragraphs.
|Think about your relationship to digital devices that connect you to the Internet and other people. How do they affect your life?
Part 1: Provide background about the technology you use and how you use it. In this section you want to present facts and information – Do not draw conclusions here.
Part 2: Write body paragraphs in which you explore how the technology affects your mind, behavior and relationships. For example, how does having your phone with you all the time affect you when you are trying to read, write, or have a conversation? How your phone affects you could happen in three ways, when you are trying to work, when you are lonely, or when you are in the middle of a conversation. To get to the topic areas where you want to explore your effects, examine your own personal experience.
This section should have more than one paragraph, each organized around a specific effect with details and examples, even anecdotes (tiny stories).
Part 3: Here is where you do the happiness check. Analyze the effects of the technology you wrote about in the body paragraphs by answering the question. Does this tech/behavior make you happy? How do you feel about engaging with it? When does it make you happy? When does it make you blue (another word for sad). Is it exploiting you are you in control?
Assignment 4: Structure