Delaware County’s Daily Newspaper
The Delaware County Daily Times Monday, November 11, 2019
By Joseph Batory, Times Columnist
Decades ago, Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian communications theorist and educator, coined the phrase, “the medium is the message.” That was his prediction that the influence of television, computers, and other electronic disseminators of information would become the primary source of thinking and thought in the future.
Many futurists then proclaimed that the brilliance of these technological advances would create a new age of high-level intellectualism and reasoning.
But much the opposite has happened!!!!
Electronic communications have only pushed people further and further away from serious thinking and analysis. Such devices/gadgets capture and captivate and control viewers. With people prioritizing smartphones and electronic communications over books and magazines and newspapers, complex subjects have now been replaced and oversimplified by very brief tidbits.
Trying to read anything meaningful online or on paper is often interrupted by frivolous and superficial electronic bursts of the irrelevant. Cable TV talking heads scream out empty soundbites and electronic tweets and other messages which are most often “full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.”
A study by the National Endowment for the Arts has concluded that reading today is vanishing and that reading currently has the least influence on our nation’s intellectual prowess. Indeed, electronic communications have become the primary source of information for American citizens, blasting out “bottom lines” of important ideas and issues… but frequently doing so without any depth. Smart phones churn out short segments of filtered information often with biased/unknown viewpoints. And of course, there are many other topics of myopic interest and mindless content on the internet and smartphones to distract and then engage users.
Sadly, too many Americans no longer know, study or care about history (formerly a great teacher). And minus in-depth reading, too many basic issues locally and nationally and internationally are being replaced by a proliferation of ongoing masses of nothingness from electronic sources.
Scraps, excerpts, tweets, texting, and short bits of information from everywhere and from nowhere are creating an intellectual vacuum!
The addictive urge to be constantly connected via smartphones and tablets has been characterized by some psychologists as an illness called dissociative disorder.
Many people cannot walk on the street or even drive a car or have dinner with friends or family without a cell phone in their face or nearby! And such excessive smartphone communication often demeans surrounding friends and family with the need to find something going on somewhere else.
Mark Glaser writing for MediaShift notes the unspoken rudeness of checking text messages in front of friends: “Somewhere else there is someone who I care about more than you. I want to know what they have to say more than what you have to say to me now…..Hey, I’ve got to take this call…”
Texting may be convenient, but it is also no substitute for real conversations. MIT Professor Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Ourselves, has documented the destructive nature of electronic communication and described the way we interact with smartphones as promoting our own isolation, even when we’re ostensibly communicating with other people.
“When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn and use different habits…we start to expect faster answers.” Says Professor Turkle, “To get these, we ask one another simpler questions. We dumb down our communications……”
In summary, smartphones are changing the way we think and learn and cutting back our intellectual capabilities in frightening ways. Rather than people controlling their flow of information, robotic messages on smartphones and the internet are controlling us with what is often insignificant or questionable information sometimes being spoon-fed by unreliable sources. Comprehension of complex issues is disappearing. Natural beauty and face to face human interactions are being replaced by the artificial.
The lure of perpetually going online is that it is full of surprises. You never quite know what you are going to get and when you are going to get it. It is that unpredictability that keeps our brains tuned-in and makes us desire to keep getting these ongoing “rewards.”
Some psychologists have found that these constant electronic communications create small elevations of dopamine for users. Dopamine is strongly implicated in reward, compulsion, and addiction circuits in the brain. Users endlessly checking online or via their smartphones at near-compulsive levels are in psychological trouble whether they know it or not.
This phenomenon has been described as FOMO, or fear of missing out, which is that we must constantly use social media or we will either be missed or will miss something. And this fear drives too much human behavior with the paranoia that being away from your phone will disconnect you from the world.
In summary, like almost everyone, I own a smartphone and a computer. So, in no way, am I suggesting that anyone thrash these devises which certainly have practical uses. But before surrendering your mind and soul totally to electronic devices, try this:
- Shut off the computer, smartphone and television for periods of time each day. Then read a newspaper cover to cover. It really doesn’t take that long. Don’t shy away from substantive articles. You will get a handle on the real world around you. And your brain will thank you later.
- Ignore the computer and the smartphone for a short period each day and take time to read some magazine articles on any topic of interest.
- Schedule some quiet time each day to read a book of fiction or non-fiction.
- Keep your smartphone turned off while conversing with family members and friends. Rudeness matters! Smartphone messages are usually not critical and can wait a few minutes. Calls can always be returned later rather than answered immediately.
- Never drive with a cellphone nearby. Shut it off. The world will not end.
- Go for a walk in a park or a natural setting and keep the cell phone turned off. Take time to rediscover the real world.
- Take an entire day off from the internet and your smartphone. You will be surprised at how little you missed when you get back online.
- Monitor how much time you spend on electronic communications each day. It is your decision as to when “enough is enough!”
Joseph Batory is the author of three books and numerous published pieces on politics, education and history.