Escaping into technology


I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about the role of technology in our lives and my dependence on it in particular, and now the New York Times has published a piece about people who are addicted to technology.

I think I’ve written before that I’ve been online every day since 1995, and it would be fair to call me an internet addict, although according to the Net Addiction quiz my habit is only moderate, I’m guessing because I don’t choose to be online when I have the opportunity to go out and do something or spend time talking to my husband or friends. For me I would say it’s probably more like a very big hobby, similar to that of a person whose hobby is watching and playing sports. It takes up a lot of my day and gives me a lot of enjoyment, but I don’t get twitchy when I can’t have it.

It got much worse when I got a BlackBerry and I could check the internet from everywhere. I know that I will need to get rid of my BlackBerry this fall when I can change phones without it impacting my cell phone contract and as much as I dread losing the instant internet access, I believe it will ultimately give my life a little more balance.

For me, a lot of it is that I am intensely, constantly curious about everything, and the internet allows me to satisfy that curiosity. (When I was a kid, my mom used to say that I never wanted to go to bed because I was afraid I would miss something, which was pretty accurate and still affects me today.) I do not think this is a bad thing because I am always learning.

But there are troubling signs about my internet use as well. As is true with most aspects of parenting, you often notice your bad habits and traits the most when you see them replicated in your child. We got my 12 year old son a laptop for Christmas and saw a sharp decline in his grades within weeks, which meant we had to place more restrictions on his computer usage. My younger children love their Nintendo DS game systems and can rarely take a car trip without them. We don’t watch TV but we are all engrossed in electronics for a good part of the day. We are far less disconnected from one another than the family described in the NYT article, but I can see that it impacts us nonetheless.

The other disconcerting thing about our dependence on electronics is that we are unintentionally participating in an ongoing anthropological and sociological experiment. If a researcher from the 1800s were to jump into a time machine and watch us now, what would they think of the way we all escape into electronic worlds (whether in the form of TV shows or internet)? They didn’t have as many escapes available, but I wonder if they would they have used them too if they had. Or is that we have more from which to escape now? My pet subject that I constantly research (online and in print books) is about the decline of our civilization, and I have files upon files of news stories and facts about how much worse our economy, jobs and society have gotten in the past 20 years. Are those unpleasant truths about life in the present day the reason we need to escape, even if many people probably don’t realize they’re escaping from anything?

Most interesting to me is the thought of how this will affect us in the future. Already I can barely remember my life when there was no such thing as the internet, even though I lived that way for the first 21 years of my life. What impact will it have for the people like my children who have never known a world without it?

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