Hang on to your hats, people, because here comes another post from the old fart reminiscing about the good old days before the internet. “Oh, no, here she goes railing on technology again!” Okay, first, I’m not railing. I enjoy the internet and its conveniences as much as the next person. However, I believe that it’s a tool and like any tool, it carries the potential for problems if not used wisely. But despite the fact that it’s going to make me sound like a Luddite, I want to talk about something I see come up often, and that’s the scary thought that technology (through social media, video games, and constant cell phone attachment) is engaging in the greatest ripoff of all time, stealing our very souls.
(Note: When I refer to your soul in this piece, I’m not talking about the religious concept of a soul that lives on after death. I’m talking about that piece of you that makes you unique, and which makes you feel fulfilled when you give it what it craves. No religious woo-woo implied, for those of you offended by that sort of thing. Yeah, the idea of a soul is still pretty nebulous, but I think most people agree that there’s some deeper part of us that tends toward a state of happiness and fulfillment. And that part can be stunted and destroyed if it’s neglected. So that’s what I’m talking about here, not the afterlife concept of a soul.)
Okay, that’s out of the way. Now what the hell am I talking about?
I spend a lot of time around young adults and I frequently hear things along the lines of, “I feel like some part of me has been stolen by the internet.” Or, “I wish I’d grown up in a time before cell phones.” And from my generation of old farts, I often hear, “I wish I could go back to the 80’s before the internet became a thing.” And this is from people who seemingly embrace technology. Perhaps they embrace it a bit too much.
I know I have, and I’m not even the heaviest user I know.
Why this anti-technology sentiment? Many people have reached a point where they’re noticing just what technology might have stolen from them. I hear people discussing how creative they one were. How focused. They talk about how great their memories were, and how well they could pay attention to something for hours. They could lose themselves in a project/hobby for hours or days and come out feeling energized because the work was fun and engaging. People who started out as kids and young adults interested in all sorts of things see their attention compressing to a very narrow online world. What happened to all that art, writing, music playing, tinkering, etc. that they used to do? There’s a lament that all of that is gone now, lost to hours spent mindlessly scrolling social feeds, playing video games, or surfing random internet sites.
Many people wonder what opportunities they’ve lost. What if I’d kept drawing instead of giving myself over to YouTube? What if I’d developed my writing instead of scrolling Instagram? How much time have I wasted on stuff that didn’t matter, when I could have been bettering myself and increasing my opportunities in life? How far behind am I thanks to screwing around on social media? What happened to my real relationships that I neglected in favor of virtual ones? I see these questions often.
I get it. Most social media, video games, etc. are designed to be as addictive as possible. It’s not all our fault that they’ve sucked us in at the expense of real life. They wanted exactly that result. Eyeballs are money for these things, so the more time you spend with them, the more money they make. It’s in their interest that we ignore our books, art, writing, building, real life socializing, and anything else that doesn’t happen on that screen.
What’s unfortunate is that it’s the things that happen off screen that make our souls happy. Scrolling Instagram and mindlessly liking things doesn’t generally make us happy deep down. But it is easy. And sites like that capitalize on that ease. It’s way easier to scroll than to read a book or sculpt something. Never mind that the latter will probably make us happier, we humans are wired to default to easy and addictive. The internet and video games are both. The real world is not.
In that sense, technology has stolen many people’s souls. They’ve abandoned their more satisfying pursuits in favor of the “junk food” equivalent. As a result, their souls have stunted and shriveled. When it cries out for real activities and you give it Snapchat, it shrinks a little more. One day you look around and wonder what happened to the bright, inquisitive, creative person you once were.
That person’s gone, hijacked by the great technology rip off.
Still don’t believe me? Here’s a list of some of (not all) the ways technology has stolen pieces of your soul.
Steals your creativity.
One of the first things technology steals is your creativity. Yes, technology does enable a lot of creative endeavors. Graphic design, writing, web comics, video production, etc. are all made easier or even possible with technology. But technology also steals a lot of ideas. I’ll hit on the attention and time aspects in a minute but creativity requires downtime for your brain to just be. Social media and other tech is designed to keep your brain occupied. Creativity thrives on boredom, yet most of us use tech to avoid boredom at all costs. When you’re spending all of your time scrolling through feeds and mindless websites, it’s hard to get those creative juices flowing.
There’s also the related idea that sometimes creativity requires analog time, even for digital fields. Sometimes your brain just needs to play with concepts in the real world, whether that’s through mock-ups, storyboards, models, or handwritten thoughts. Concepts often come together in unique ways when you engage in the free play that analog provides. Yes, there are apps for everything, but most of them are too structured or full of distractions to encourage the early stages of an idea. They’re great for the later stages, but incubation often requires analog time.
Steals your attention span.
Technology shortens attention spans. It may seem like it doesn’t matter, but a decent attention span is required for most soul-enhancing activities. Reading, writing, creating, having long talks with loved ones, enjoying a moment while on vacation, studying/learning, etc. all require focus. Especially if you want to get the most out of them. But technology is life on speed. Everything encourages us to click, click, click and click some more. Long form content is a lost art. Everything must be served up in 240 character tweets and pithy captions. It’s a world that encourages us to flit from thing to thing as rapidly as possible. Your attention span shortens after years of this and eventually you discover that you can’t focus on anything. This is not generally a path to a happy soul.
Creates/exacerbates mental illness
More and more research is finding links between social media, cellphone obsession, and mental illness. Especially among the young. (Don’t get excited adults. You’re not immune either.) While it may not always be the cause of depression, anxiety, etc., it can certainly increase those feelings. When everything looks better than your life (Instagram), or the world appears to be ending (Facebook), or everyone is angry (Twitter), those things can spill over into your psyche and cause or exacerbate mental illness. A distorted reality and mental illness does not make for a happy soul.
Steals your physical health.
Most technology is passive. Social media, video games, watching videos, etc. all require massive amounts of sitting. We now know that sitting is one of the worst things you can do for your health. Staring at screens can harm your eyes and wreck your sleep patterns, as well. And it’s all made worse if you snack a lot while doing nothing. Poor physical health is not conducive to many soul-enhancing activities. It’s hard to get outdoors, travel, be creative, or enjoy time with others if you don’t feel good.
Steals your time
That article I linked above in the attention span section notes that British adults now spend 50 whole days per year online. (And I doubt Americans are any better.) Fifty days! Holy crap, that’s frightening. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste my life like that. I’d rather spend the time doing things that make me happy. Reading more, traveling, writing, creating, spending time with friends and family, etc. I don’t want to lie on my deathbed and regret those fifty days per year that I wasted.
Just stop reading and ponder that for a moment. Fifty days. Fifty days. What a waste when you think that it was spent doing nothing and worse, in the thrall of sites that don’t care about you or your dreams. They exist only to make money off of your wasted time. If that doesn’t convince you that tech has stolen something very valuable from you, then I don’t know what will.
Next time I’ll talk about exactly how you can retrieve your stunted soul from the tech monster, and how to repair any damage it has sustained. There is hope!
(Photo courtesy of Ebweb)