Technology has gifted society with the ability to reach each other in any place, at any time, immediately. This makes connecting with people generally out of reach significantly easier, heightening our ability to learn about different cultures, share information, and keep in contact with those from our past. But at what cost? 91% of Americans have a cell phone, 61% have a laptop, and 58% have a desktop computer. In a 2013 internet survey, 67% of them admitted that no matter where they are or what they are doing, they continuously check their various devices for alerts, even when their device has not rung, and 44% admitted to sleeping with their cell phones within reach, putting more stock in not missing any notifications than in having one night of uninterrupted rest. The obsession seems like a small price to pay when measured up against the benefits these devices have afforded society.
Health research strides have expanded with instant communication, video conferencing, and the ability to share and work on the same document simultaneously with someone all the way across the globe. Millennials have taken advantage of the expansive online society we have created, using it as a forum to discuss our innermost thoughts and opinions. In this way, the relationships of the past, characterized by silent dinner tables and the inability of couples to express their wants and needs, have vanished, replaced by a society of people trained to know both how they’re feeling and the best way to express it. The new opportunities and successes are endless, but, in addition to the technology obsession, there is a bigger concern at stake.
People have learned to control each other using technology, rather than being honest. Instead of asking what someone means by something they have said, we show the text to our friends and spend hours debating over it before answering. We do not have relationships with just one person anymore; we have relationships with them and all of their friends. The interesting thing is that in the last forty years, extra-marital affair rates have declined: 82% in 1975 to 59% presently. In this same vein, however, marriage rates in America have dropped drastically: a 20% decline since 1960. This indicates that, with the rise of technology, people are less inclined to be in monogamous relationships, but instead of attempting them and failing, have chosen to forgo the attempt altogether in favor of a more polyamorous lifestyle. Technology has granted us the ability to not just wonder if something better is out there, but to actually go out and look for it. Instead of settling down, people are searching for the next best thing, but without the ability to actually tell if something really is the next best thing.
As it stands now, many people have already forgotten how to interact with each other without the aid of technological devices. Relationships are started through social media, taken to the next level through Skype dates, and consummated through “sexting.” The need for organic human contact is irrelevant now that mutual masturbation has become so prevalent and people feel that they are more honest with each other when not face-to-face. What’s preferable: talking to someone face-to-face and knowing that they could be lying, or texting someone lengthy paragraphs and knowing you’re most likely getting the truth?
Now that technology has enabled us to be in a different place or time than the one we are actually in, what happens to us in the present? People go on dates and spend the entire time on their phones: instagramming their food to see what their followers will say, tweeting funny things saw or said in order to engage those not present in the environment, and texting other people how the date is going. We have forgotten how to live in the moment, and, if that is not rectified, we will be doomed to live half-lives, partially in the present, but yearning and reaching for anything and everything else.
When you are texting or emailing someone, you rarely have to deal with the consequences of your words and actions. If you break up with someone over a text message, you never see their reaction so you can carry on with your life, pretending it didn’t break their heart. Technology, despite all of its helpfulness, is turning our hearts cold. We are forgetting how to feel and care because we are not faced with real human contact and emotion. The daily dose of emotion the average human receives is through emojis and GIFs. There are no tears, no anger, no furrowed brows, and no smiles. Instead, we have LOLs, SMHs, and pictures of hearts. Sure, millennials have a lot to say, but not directly to each other. We know how to express ourselves, a huge leap forward from our predecessors, but we still have to learn how to do it in the right way. Instead of having a completely silent dinner table, we have a mostly silent dinner table, punctuated by ring tones and the occasional chuckle irrelevant to everyone actually present in the room.
So, yes, technology has enabled us to enhance many aspects of society, but relationships are not one of them. While at first look it seems as though technology has provided an outlet for broader communication, all it has done is enabled us to ignore each other in favor of our simulated counterparts. We are clever and witty until you meet us, and then we become tongue-tied and awkward. We learn how to interact while pretending to be something better than what we are, and then are unable to release our insecurities when it comes time to stand up and be who we really are. Technology is an amazing thing, giving healthcare immeasurable strides, providing an educational outlet for those who would not normally be able to afford school, and bringing together people from all different cultures and backgrounds, but it comes with a price. Over-use of anything, even a great thing, can lead to devastating consequences. The consequence of technology is a life half-lived in search of something more entertaining, or more beautiful, or just plain better. If you spend your life always searching, never stopping to smell the roses, you’re going to miss out on all the things that are being offered. Although technology is, unquestionably, a great asset to society and to human relationships, due to being used improperly, its effect will be devastating if continued in this vein.
Originally published on Boston Urban News