An eighth-grade teacher tells me that for many years she has had successive classes of students read the same book, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Her students have loved it — until five years ago or so. “I started to see kids not so excited–even high achieving groups could not get engaged with it,” she told me. “They say the reading is too hard; the sentences are too complicated; it takes too long to read a page.”
A friend reports, “I visited some friends in New Jersey recently and their kids have every electronic gadget known to man. All I ever saw were the tops of their heads. They were constantly checking their iPhones for who had texted them, what had updated on Facebook, or they were lost in some videogame. They’re totally aware of what’s happening around them, and clueless about how to interact with someone for any length of time.”“Focus” by Daniel Goleman
The modern user would not be caught without his smartphone, because he literally cannot think or interact without it. This is identical to the addictive behavior of an alcoholic, nicotine abuser, or heroin addict.
People who understand the addictive lure of new technologies and social media will not expose their kids to it — any more than they would serve recreational methamphetamine to their children. The term “addiction” first referred to being legally sentenced to a term of slavery in order to pay a debt. It should be clear how addiction and slavery are related, conceptually. Who would want to make their children into slaves?
The trend to greater use and dependency on smartphones is clear. Internet addiction, social media addiction, and smartphone addiction are parallel, mutually reinforcing, and interlocking addictions. Each new cohort, each new generation is more firmly dependent upon these interwoven addictions.
“The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr was the first popular mass market volume in English to take a close look at this phenomenon. “Irresistible” by Adam Alter is a more recent perspective on the corrupting effects of addictive technologies. “Focus” by Daniel Goleman provides a broader perspective centered on the concept of attention. These books make it clearer that average attention spans in the tech-addicted worlds are falling, and the ability of the average person to take in and assimilate new information from books and articles, is collapsing.
This is not to condemn the internet itself. The internet is a complex tool with many facets. How we use it is up to us. The internet is here to stay as part of the “fast, cheap, and out of control” future that is still forming itself in the deep layers of slippery reality beneath our feet. Interwoven networks — with all their vulnerabilities and latent powers — will continue to insinuate themselves into every aspect of our lives. We will be both better and worse for all of its inevitability.
Young minds that are still forming themselves are particularly vulnerable to all forms of addiction, including technology addiction. If during the formation of the mind it happens that technology exists at the central focus of the young life, then that mind will develop as a “wraparound” entity, with the various technologies taking up the core formations. You might be able to imagine how differently a mind might function, depending upon which particular mechanisms exist at the central, foundational levels of thinking.
When interacting with many members of these new cohorts of mind formations, you may be shocked to discover that the individual is unable to arrive at a starting point for thinking — but must rather emote his way toward a vague argument. He is no less certain of his correctness, but from a higher and more rational level, the vacuous nature of his thought is all too obvious. You have to see it to believe it.
And this seems to be the whole point of smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, soundbite journalism, and the rest of the short attention span but high time commitment technology addiction. To get all the zombies in synch with each other, so that the people who invented and control all the technology can get what they want behind the scenes.
It is true that in the middle of a contentious argument, all hands reach for the smartphone and Google — in search of the answer that will settle the issue. But if the issue in question is any more complicated than “who won the Super Bowl of 1979?” the instant Google answer may not be right at all. There is no depth in so much of Alexa, Siri, Google, Wikipedia, or the rest of the rapid two-dimensional analyses of complex issues which one finds in the “quick answer” forums of the media.
It takes weeks, months, years, and longer to develop the knowledge and the connections between the knowledge to interpret questions such as “Why did Hitler stop the bombing campaign over Britain in order to focus more on the push to the East?” The quick and facile answers simply do not serve for this and most other issues of importance.
But the dumbed down cohorts of short attention span will never arrive at that insight, because to do so would expose one of many fatal shortcomings in their infrastructure of thought.
So you might see that even with a relatively intelligent population, if the minds are artificially dumbed down by dysfunctional technological addictions, educations of indoctrination, bloated governments of corruption, and a popular culture so superficial as to deserve a complete razing, the ruling classes can get away with murder and fraud with nary a peep of protest.
Of course if the population is relatively mediocre in intelligence, it is all the easier to manipulate the mob for the 1% and its lackeys — which not coincidentally contains a large group of trial lawyers.
Always look between the lines, and in the shadows. Jump between levels to get alternative points of view. Something is always happening, but the lapdog news media of the 1% will only choose to show you the things that serve its purpose.
Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. Be alert and be resourceful.
More: Another author whose work provides essential understanding of the impact of digital technology on the formation of human brains and social interaction, is Sherry Turkle. Professor Turkle (MIT) has authored several books dealing with this broad topic, my favorite of which is “Alone Together.”