What is it about new technology that draws us in? Is it the slick, smart looking designs? The feeling of intelligence and ‘cool’ that is tied to being technologically savvy? Or is it the seemingly limitless amount of information and possibilities that these technologies seem to posses? Either way, new technology and means of communications, from cell phones to social networking, have changed the way we interact, think, and learn. Some argue that these changes are for the better, while many argue that these changes are holding back our society. No matter which side one chooses, it is clear that the impact of modern technology on our daily lives is significant. In particular, the issues of social connectivity, technology dependence, and whether or not technology is making us more intelligent are several topics that often crop up in the debates between the two sides.
One of the major questions that arise with increased use of technology is whether it is increasing or decreasing social connectivity. Many argue that all the new means of technology and communication, from social networking, to texting, to email, to webcaming, have connected us more than ever by allowing us to socialize with old friends, relatives oversea, or even potential business contacts. However, the question is how much technological contact and communication is too much? A study done by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda at the University of Maryland requested that 200 students refrain from using electronic media for a day. The overall consensus was that completely abstaining from technology was not easy for most of the study participants, and as one student explained: “Texting and IMing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort. When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life” ( Parker-Pope, 2010, p. 3). Is the feeling of comfort that one gets from technology usage a bad thing? Some believe that increased technology usage is interfering with our ability to have meaningful face-to-face conversations. However, according to Andrew Flanagin (2005), a Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the increased use on new technology is has an effect on face-to-face communication, but not to a huge extent. To determine this, he did a study with college students in coincidence with the advent of IM to see how IM had either decreased or increased the use of other technology. He found that with the advent of an immediate hit like IM, 74% of respondents maintained the same amount of face-to-face communication while cell phones were used less by 24% or the respondents (182). Is this enough of a change in face-to-face communication and the ever-popular cell phone usage that there should be concern? How much important face-to-face communication is being sacrificed by technological communication, or is technological communication simply making means of communication easier? According to Alan Greenblatt (2010), with the CQ Researcher group and a writer for Governing magazine, the average teenager sends 2,000 text messages a month and one teenager in California sent 300,000 texts in one month (775). Does a line need to be drawn at 300,000 texts? Or should it be encouraged as it enhances communication? In certain situation such as the teenager’s above, some ask whether or not the new dependence on technology can be akin to an addiction.
The question of whether or not it is possible to be ‘addicted’ to the internet and other technologies is a tricky one. Both China and South Korea have already named internet addiction as a primary health concern (Greenblatt, 2010, 780). But are these fears of addiction overstated? Many would argue that they are. The new technological advances being introduced into our lives are often for the purpose of improving efficiency or making once long and difficult tasks quick and easy to accomplish. Therefore, they are something that we have begun to depend upon not because we are addicted, but because we have been taught to depend on these technologies to increase our success and personal efficiency. For example, every day society is getting closer and closer to finding better treatments and possible cures for life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer or diabetes. Our modern computers and imaging devices (like the MRI or CAT scan) allow doctors to detect these problems and therefore begin treatment early, something that has saved numerous lives. Therefore, many would argue that our dependence, whether an addiction or not, on technology is actually helping our society progress and improve. Naturally, the opposing side disagrees and believes that this dependence is hindering our progress, which fits into the belief that this dependence may actually be ‘dumbing us down.’
The debate of whether the excessive use of technology is improving our intelligence or dumbing us down is a heated debate. Those who argue that it is ‘dumbing us down’ believe that things like excessive internet use is shortening our attention spans and memories, as well as preventing us from using skills like deep thinking. According to Nicholas Carr (2008), a writer who has published books on technology, business, and culture, he can no longer focus and absorb long lengths of prose that he once found so entertaining. He states that his “concentration…starts to drift after two or three pages” (1) and he blames this on the effect that internet use has on cognition. He believes that reading on the internet or through other technological means encourages skimming, as opposed to deep reading. Something most people would not agree with is that with all the advertisements, hyperlinks, pictures, and videos that are plastered to each website or article, it is hard not to get distracted. Furthermore, the ease of research encourages us to simply skim the surface to determine the value of an article, and as Carr also states “research that once required days…can now be done in minutes” (2). Obviously Carr sees this as a negative thing as he states that this is diminishing our ability to think deeply. Those who oppose Carr’s idea concede that yes, technology is absolutely changing the way we think and increasing the speed of our research, but they don’t see this as a flaw. According to George E. Kennedy (2008), a professor in the Biomedical Multimedia Unit at the University of Melbourne, the average first-year university student spends 4.2 hours per week researching and studying online (110). Some might argue that this shows that even though the ease of getting information has improved significantly, people are still willing to spend time sifting and sorting through information to find that which is valuable. Therefore, the question of whether or not use of technology increases or decreases intelligence remains.
Clearly, thoughts and opinions about the value of contemporary technology are varied in this multi-faceted issue, particularly when it comes to the issues of social connectivity, technological dependence, and the question of whether or not technology increases intelligence. The two sides share common ground in certain aspects of the issue, such as the idea that technology has affected the way society thinks, but they see this common ground in different lights. The future of our development of technology is an unpredictable one, as we are improving and changing our technology every day. So no matter what the future might hold, there is always something that will draw society into new technologies, whether it is for the good or for the bad.
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