ENGL 212 Personal Essay — Technology and the World Around Us
Digital technology, especially smartphones, have impacted my life in the way that I think and work. As I go about my daily routine of school, wrestling, work, and social life, I often find myself emerging into my iPhone screen, unable to escape its cold embrace. It pulls me back in every time I look away as though it is calling my name. It makes any attempt to focus on homework or work futile as it is always in the back of my mind. Don’t get me wrong I love technology and all of its benefits that come with the simplicity of such a great tool but there is usually a downside that we do not consider when using them. When using tools to simplify a job it often results in those base skills being forgotten or worsened. In this case, our smartphones are changing our social landscapes and personal relationships with the people around us.
The internet has changed our perspectives and expectations of the people around us. We want everything now and if we cannot get it now we want it as soon as possible. We are impatient and stubborn when it comes to getting what we want. The internet did not create this impatience or stubbornness but it has fostered it allowing that need to grow exponentially. We are given everything with the use of the internet at lightning speed. Delivery, email, work, food, etc. we want it all fast. No, it is not bad to want it all but it is the new expectation of the digital world. It changes the way we look at the world and we are more connected to people around the world than ever before.
The internet and all the digital technologies that come along with it have brought the world a sense of connectivity. All around the world we are able to reach others almost instantly at the push of a button. We no longer expect email responses to take 3 weeks at a time. We are able to finish entire conversations in minutes or hours without delay. It makes things effective when we should be cherishing them. Catching up with old colleagues, friends, or family members should not be made faster or more effective but it is something that is starting to happen with the use of smartphone technology. We have a growing addiction to technology and it is very hard to satisfy that addiction.
The smartphone is the easiest example to pick of them all. We carry our entire lives on it and we feel like a part of ourselves is missing when we leave it behind or misplace it. It replaces the need for physical communication in the way that a meal replacement replaces our dinners. It is a temporary substitute that holds us over until the next meeting or “meal” giving us just some of the nutrients needed to survive not to thrive. Humans are sociable by nature, some more than others but at some point or another, we yearn for that physical connection. Our senses play a big factor in that. The “nutrients” we miss out on are the physical aspects of touch and smell being lost through the use of digital technologies like our smartphones that do not give us all the social “nutrients” that we need to develop our characteristics and social skills. Our personal growth is stunted and limits our capacity to think as well. I hate the fact that our smartphones are so hard-wired into every aspect of our lives. It makes our lives so much easier than we choose to ignore the negative effects or even refuse them altogether. I ultimately believe that this one device hinders us overall but there is one aspect of the smartphone that I think does the most damage to our brain physically and mentally. That function is instant messaging through mediums such as iMessage and email. I want to note that I do recognize there are a lot of benefits provided to us through these functions.
With that being said I also recognize that it brings a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety into our lives along with it. We are expected to be able to respond at any given moment in this day and age of technology. And if we don’t we are chastised for not being on our phones enough. The most common example of this is the invasion of privacy in the work-life balance. Work often crosses into the borders of home and the boundaries between the two are blurred. This puts a lot of stress on our mental health as well as our physical relationships with the people around us. Our attention is diverted elsewhere and we focus less on the world around us. By becoming more connected with the world through the internet we are actually disconnecting ourselves from the ones around us.
As I type this paper I am sitting outside astute of all the noises of “nature” within the concrete civilization that is Naperville. I left my phone in my room just to see what I would feel. I feel like a prisoner who is smuggling out a letter before the change of the guard. On the walk back to my dorm where I had left my phone I get the feeling I am being sent back to the cell that is my iPhone. While I was able to enjoy the breeze and beautiful night sky in the back of my mind I could still feel the anxiety of wanting to check my phone building. Wondering how many notifications I had, who had texted or called me, or what emails I needed to reply to. The only word I have to describe this feeling is addiction. I constantly feel as though I am missing an important part of myself when I leave my phone somewhere. As a sense of my identity has been taken away but the freedom to know that I am unbothered by the digital world is satisfying. I think this is where phones start to take a toll on our minds and body. Without email and messaging the world would move at a much slower rate and we would be less connected with the outside world and cultures around us but the habitual training of checking our messages and emails has hardwired our brains to keep yearning for the satisfaction that comes from the notifications much in the same way as Pavlov's dogs. When we hear the notifications going off we get an explosion of dopamine in our brain and it makes us feel good but it is a fleeting high that we routinely search for.
I do not like what the smartphone is doing and has done to our society because everything’s meant to be consumed not enjoyed. We work at all hours of the day when our work follows us home, our conversations are pushed to the side, and we no longer focus on the physical world. We have become prisoners to this terrible, wonderful technology and some are okay with becoming left inside the confines of their screens but not me. I feel the need to break out from the other side of the glass and disconnect from our phones is important to living a meaningful life.