I openly admit that I, like my peers, am addicted. Especially as I am on my own in San Diego, I use my IPad for a plethora of things: from checking the daily weather to reading Toronto’s newspapers to playing games to checking my email continuously and even reviewing great buys. In these ways, I stay in touch when I am away, happily exiled from the brutal cold of weather of my home. The tablet is my friend, bringing me news, information and even stimulation.
This past weekend a discussion between Norman Doidge, psychiatrist and author of The Brain That Changes Itself and Jim Basillie ,CEO of Blackberry, in Ontario’s Globe and Mail reminded me of how once more, my place in the world is not as a citizen but as a mere customer to be manipulated by those whom I am allowing to use me, a pawn in the commerce of the world. Doidge and Basillie query, why do we share our private thoughts and finances on line with ubiquitous anonymous entities?
Unlike most of this generation, however, boomers were not brought up with computers and digital technology. Basillie points out,” CEOs of big tech companies are simply capitalists doing what capitalists are supposed to do: maximize…. And of course if you lobby those legislators you get rules and regulations hat help you increase profit. In an economy of intangibles, the market¬place frameworks are everything absolutely everything . These companies benefit enormously from addictions so they build it into their products wherever possible.”
And so, we willingly savour being flattered and courted and duped into addiction. Like my students long ago who missed an episode of ER or The Cosby Show, we want to belong to the greater fabric of society, speak the lingo, possess insider information, be in the know because this “ intel” puts us ahead, glamorizes us so we strive to participate in the latest trends: now overwhelmingly, social media fascinations with all its permutations, combinations and glitter- purposely engineered to suck us in.
A friend remarked likewise. We had been reading an article the week before about why we seem unable to read for long periods of time, about how our brain synapses are actually being altered by constant time spent clipping and surfing , searching for the next “ like”, or fix that will boost the chemicals in our brains, making us easily bored or unable to focus for more than a few second before flying off towards. a new site on our electronic devices. Because our brains can change themselves, altering structure and function in response to mental activities, “ neuroplastic”, Doidge explaining, “[d]igital technologies are uniquely compatible with the brain, because both are electric and also work processing at high speeds”. Along with brain alterations comes our bodies, especially necks that bend to screens, and rival the time we once swung our arms and legs in movement as opposed to being curled up with an Ipad or locked to a computer desk, all impacting badly on bodies that should be twisting, stretching, etc.
Even my son getting close to 40 who thankfully still enjoys an engaging read and born before the advent of addictive technology, years back, when given a choice to write a law exam on computers or not, he and his classmates definitely rejected the offer, weary of the pitfalls. Now I doubt there would even be a choice. And certainly his cadre would at present demonstrate preference of machine over hand written exam, cramping fingers replaced by other corporeal maladies.
Jim Basillie in the article describes the discomfort of a teenager whose parents take his device( Smartphone) away at a dinner in a restaurant , commenting on inappropriate table manners. The adolescent fidgets, squirms and Basillie observes his pain, a kind of withdrawal. No wonder fidget toys and spinners have found a market. We know through studies that young boys, even before the arrival of tablets found sitting still almost unbearable, now sadly that body unrest is exacerbated by minds that crave a fix. And how often do we notice parents providing tablets and phones to even babies at table to KEEP THEM QUIET.
Scientists note as well the role eye contact plays in a baby’s development, learning appropriate social and emotional cues by mimicking their mother’s ( or father’s) response by looking directly into their eyes. Remember “play -based” learning? How too do people complain of the lack of that eye contact of their companions as eyes across the table search for a place to land, to focus, to avoid, perhaps the gaze of another, or hunger for the blue light of the screen to satisfy a need. The Ipad exudes no judgment, just “ likes”, approvals whose goal is not your growth as a human, only as a purchaser, a source of profit.
Neuropsychologist are being paid to play into our addictive tendencies, aware of how to attract our brains through the rewards, novelties and even colours that render us as rats in the maze : our prize, the compulsion to spend money for a superfluous good that makes us believe it will satisfy, makes us feel better and happier about ourselves. And while we hunger to hold the tablet, we have no meta- awareness, only the driving desire.
Working with the concept of self, Doidge and Basillie discuss that adolescents require time for reflection, to decide, away from their peers, grow their fears, dissect their own arguments, weigh how to take a stand, defend and build a sense of self , evaluating what they believe is important :what works for them. But with the constant steam of voices readily available on the devices and the seemingly constant need to be validated, rather, than actually working out an issue, they inevitably turn to group voice, allowing the mass response to override or even negate their own. In this way, their weak and evolving sense of protest, outrage, and individuality is lost.
I’ve often worried that even knowing how to form words in print will return the population to illiteracy, lost by allowing Siri or Alexa to speak for us, voice and write down our thoughts. And then there are those strange abbreviations of eclipsed words ,OMG, WTF that not only abort language but shorten it to a few letters like grunts from animals. As we write, so we form or extrapolate our thoughts. John Polyani has described how the act of writing allows for more than what we superficially thought we know: to appear on paper, extending the thoughts we weren’t aware we had, that accumulated stream of consciousness based on experiential data that unravels and delightedly surprises us as it appears on the blank page before us.
If we simply speak our words to Siri, rather than engaging in the path that takes the thought from our head through to the fingers in our hands that holds the pen, things change. Our brains adapt differently and not only our meanings may be misinterpreted, nuance lost, but our ability to communicate as we intended will vanish as well. So too Basillie acknowledges that parents in Silicon Valley promote time away from the screen for their own offspring, encouraging Waldorf methods of being in nature, knitting, woodworking, using minds and bodies, reminiscent of John Dewey’s concept of the school where there are no barriers between the walls and the landscape wherein it is built.
Think this “addiction” is far fetched? Today’s Star Life Section entitled “Your house is going to get a lot smarter”. Rachel Tepper Paley describes how we will become more dependent on technology, more seduced ,although she seems to write with the wonder of it all, even allowing there were no refrigerators before 1913:
“[Smart time clocks will] sense when you’ve reached your sleep cycle’s lightest point and release a wake-up scent of your choice.
Once you’re up, it’s time to get dressed… with clothes you don’t just wear — they will interact with you, tracking health markers and habits. Among them: …smart gloves, which promise to detect skin temperature and provide heat accordingly. Your clothes might even change shape or colour based on your feelings, as will the Sensoree mood sweater, now available for preorder…And if you want a new wardrobe, you won’t have to even leave the house to find the best-fitting clothes: Amazon’s patented mirror will let you virtually try on outfits from the comfort of your own bedroom..”
She mentions too that your purchases will not be left at the door, but verified delivers will enter your living space, “your hub” so you need not even move from your couch where your television can effortlessly be rolled up and out of sight. Your home will be fit with numerous speakers that will control your everything from your light bulbs to your thermostat to your front door.
And dare I say it?. As we all ready know, televisions not only broadcast out, they also can spy on you in your home as those nasty Samsung ones can, garnering and collecting your life’s moments, piercing your privacy as cookies do on the internet. Nor surprising, some of us like Thoreau will want to escape to our own Waldens, eschew these devices, talk to one another, make eye contact, read and think and write down for future generations what it is was like back before technology went mad.
Interestingly not one person commented on the editorial page in The Globe after last week’s article by Doidge and Basillie.Are we so inured, so aware that this trend is coming, that we have totally accepted and normalized it?