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Opinion

Overuse of technology may lead to distorted human experience

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December 5, 2014

The scene is quite common: A group of students are sitting in the University Center dining area; they seem to be friends, but at least a few — if not all of them — are looking at their cell phones rather than each other, or at least have them ready and waiting on the table for that next Facebook notification.

Technology has developed exponentially since the first hand-held mobile telephone of the 1940s, which was exclusive to only those who invented them, and Wall Street businessmen. 80 years later, 79 percent of Americans between the ages of 18-24 own a smartphone.

I hadn’t given much thought to what is now the social norm until a few weeks ago as I stood in the hallway of Centennial Science Hall waiting for my class to start. I was mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, oblivious to the fact that my beautiful iPhone 5’s battery was at zero percent. Looking up from the black screen, I peered down the hallway and saw that literally every single other student was staring at a screen of their own, rather than interacting with the others who were waiting, just as I had been.

As I continued to waste my life perusing the internet later that day, I stumbled upon — on the website StumbleUpon — a video for a poem titled “Look Up” presented and written by a British man named Gary Turk. The video is five minutes long and presents a moving “what-could-have-been” scenario, if the man had simply lifted his head from his phone and asked the woman on the sidewalk for directions, instead of relying on the GPS that rendered him lost in the first place.

The idea of disconnecting from technology and social media seems easy, but it is widely accepted among psychologists now that almost everyone who uses these even minimally is addicted to it on some level. A Harvard study in 2011 found that we are in fact so addicted to technology and social media that though we don’t realize it, our brains now experience the same levels of pleasure when notified of ‘likes’, ‘comments’, and text messages as experienced when eating, when given money, using cocaine, and during sex.

Humans are inherently narcissistic creatures to some degree, and it makes us feel validated when the information and life events we share are approved by our ‘friends.’ However, it has been proven more than once that social media actually makes us unhappier in the long run, as people project the best version of themselves and their lives on to these virtual realities, making you feel inadequate when the things you’re posting aren’t nearly as cool as everyone else’s.

I concede that technology and social media have done great things for the world. Nine out of 10 Egyptians and Tunisians responded to a poll that they used Facebook to organize protests and spread awareness during the Arab Spring. It was a huge resource for the Ukrainian Revolution as well. It keeps family and friends that can’t be with each other feel connected at least a little, and can be a great tool to stay up to date on current events.

However, as a society, we’ve taken our reliance on it much too far. In July of 2012 alone, Americans spent 121 billion minutes on social media. The average Facebook user now spends more time on their newsfeed each day than caring for their dog. I’m a part of this problem, and I’m more than willing to admit it. It is so much easier to use Google Maps than ask for directions in a gas station, to talk to a cute guy from class on Facebook than possibly make a fool of yourself in person, or to ‘like’ and ‘share’ something for a cause you care about (coined ‘slacktivism’) than actually doing something about it. This isn’t how life is meant to be experienced.

We have senses and bodies and thoughts for a reason — to have real interactions with the world. When our faces are constantly in our screens, we miss the tangible opportunities life presents us, which are unfailingly more rewarding than a tweet notification could ever be. As a student body, perhaps we should make more of an effort to connect with those around us, rather than those in our cell phones.

Molly Kinney is a journalism student with a political science minor. She enjoys reading, camping, music, art and exploring new cities in her free time. In the future, she would love to travel the world and cover politics for NPR.