Sunday, November 28, 2010

the matrix has you.

A common sight amongst the youngins.
We live in an age where confessions are revealed through text messages; where suicide notes are left as Facebook statuses; where breaking news is heard through Twitter; where thoughts are blogged and secrets are shared over the Internet. We are a more private people in the 21st century with a contradicting penchant for over-sharing. By sinking deeper into our smartphones and laptops, we shut out the world around us, only to be lost in a new world--one dominated by textual interaction and social networking. We know more about each other through our status updates and uploaded photos. Hell, even sharing our thoughts on a blog or Tumblr (guilty) seems easier. Why? Because we can edit; we can hold back. You can't be vague in conversation without somebody pressing you for more. The Internet is a space where you can talk about your problems without really talking about your problems.

A recent New York Times article peeked into the lives of this generation's youths and their obsession with technology. The article discusses teenagers' disinterest in books and conversations; they're too busy texting, watching YouTube videos and updating their Facebook statuses. Multitasking is rising and attention spans are shrinking. "On YouTube, 'you can a whole story in six minutes,' he [17-year-old Vishal Singh] explains. 'A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.'"

But this is a problem, according to researchers like Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School: "Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing...The worry is we're raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently."This can't be argued. The way we receive and process information nowadays is noticeably different than it was 20 years ago. Even 10 years ago, our faces weren't glued to screens. It's noted in the article that people tend to text multiple people while also talking to other people. The same is true of online chatting--you don't need to focus on just one thing. It takes much more energy (and time) to focus on a face-to-face coffee date or to write a letter by hand. Daniel Anderson, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts, agrees: "Like Dr. Rich, he says he believes that young, developing brains are becoming habituated to distraction and to switching tasks, not to focus. 'If you've grown up processing multiple media, that's exactly the mode you're going to fall into when put in that environment--you develop a need for that stimulation,' he said."

It's impossible to argue that this technology is all bad though. We've clearly made many advancements with all of these developments, but the suggestion to take everything in moderation has clearly been missed. Young brains are overexposed already, but there are plenty of reasons why people should start backing off the constant YouTube watching or Facebooking: "You can't become a good writer by watching YouTube, texting and e-mailing a bunch of abbreviations," says Marcia Blondel, an English teacher at Woodside High School.

I'm sure this argument was made with the advent of television and cable television: "technology ruins children, etc." As someone who is fairly "plugged in," it's hypocritical for me to condemn technology entirely. I do think, however, that it's ruined the way people interact with one another. We feel more comfortable hiding behind screens. It's comforting, not having to worry about accidentally revealing more than we care to show. But it ruins something, I think. Do we ever achieve the same level of closeness as being able to speak candidly and openly, face-to-face?

There is less of a need to invest in one another too. To sit down and write a letter or focus solely on one person while in conversation takes time, effort and patience. We're constantly on the go and, as a result, it feels like nobody has time to interact the way we used to.

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