Technology Addicts

Technology Addicts

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Technology Addicts

Five empty chairs form a circle in the center of the room. Slowly but surely, people begin to make their way into the room. A young man dressed in a black suit sits down with his Newsweek and briefcase. He adjusts his tie, clears his throat, and pushes his wire-rimmed glasses up onto the bridge of his nose. A teenage girl sits down beside him, tucking blonde strands of hair behind her ears to reveal tiny white headphones attached to her iPod. She crosses her right leg over the left, tapping her foot in mid-air to the beat.

The worn wooden door creaks open again, slamming shut behind a twenty-something carrying a thin silver laptop computer. He slouches down into the chair with an exasperated sigh and begins to type furiously at the keyboard. The businessman glares over the top of his glasses at him when the familiar chimes of instant messaging become as frequent as the taps of the keys. The young man continues, oblivious to his surroundings. The clock on the wall ticks closer to seven o'clock as the last two people amble in. A middle-aged woman sits down with her knitting, occasionally stopping to jot notes in the sleek PDA beside her. Finally, a woman with a clipboard comes through the door and takes her seat, completing the circle. She clears her throat and begins.

"Good evening, and welcome to group therapy. Let's go over the ground rules: First no technology allowed at meetings. Put away your iPod, laptops, PDAs, etc. RIGHT NOW. And don't bring them back to these meetings or they will be confiscated." The group members scowl as they slowly wind up wires. "My only other rule is that you participate. You won't get anything out of group therapy if you don't put anything into it. Let's begin."

* * *

What would our lives be like if technology were our life support? We would probably not be able to go an entire day without emails, instant messaging, or the World Wide Web. Cell phones might as well be permanently attached to our ears.

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Wait... this is our reality. When did we become a society dependent upon technology rather than one which simply benefits from it? The answer lies in our attitudes toward progress.

Our attitudes in favor of progress have turned us into addicts. Instead of simply benefiting from advances in technology, we live for them. As a society, we crave the newest technology to "improve" our lives. People count down the days until the newest iPod is released as if it were a holiday. We automatically assume that the next advance in technology will ultimately make our lives better. This assumption is our pitfall: often technology hurts the qualities of life that it was originally meant to enhance.

We are able to lead busier lives with the aid of technology, admittedly. Surfing the web for a research paper rather than going to the library and being able to call someone at any time, anywhere exemplify how technology allows us to cram much more into a twenty-four hour period than ever before. However, busy is not always better. I found that as I got older, I was encouraged to "get involved" and become more active in my community. But the reality of it is that when we expend all of our energy in activities that set up the illusion of community, we miss out on the real deal. We join activities for the companionship, but find that those relationships thrive only during the activity's particular season. We lose touch with those companions of our youth - the kids a few doors down. We go our separate ways and aim for quantity, rather than quality, of activities and friends. In an age where being successful means being busy at earlier and earlier ages, we lose out on the quality time with other people.

We use technology to fill the gaps in communication and relationship skills where we fall short. We have trouble holding meaningful eye contact in conversations, or even having face-to-face conversations at all. We are afraid of the awkward silence between conversations, the moments when we are just together, enjoying the sunset or a baseball game. Instead we use instant messaging or the telephone to "multi-task." We like to be able to check our email, work on homework, or cook dinner in the middle of conversations. I myself, like most people my age, have already had several "AIM" windows up at one time, thereby decreasing the amount of time that I had to spend chatting with individual friends. As a result, most of those conversations were trivial and superficial.

We devote the minimum amount of efforts to these relationships, yet expect maximum results. In our days of trouble, we blame our friends as disloyal when they cannot come to our aid or simply do not know how. How much do we really know about the people around us? Do we even care anymore? Where have the days of sitting on the porch gone? Where are all the silly moments that make us smile? With conversations and relationships that are mainly communicated through the use of technology, we lose out on the human element. The satisfaction with the raw reality, the ups and downs, is lost. Rather than seeing the sincerity in another person's expressions we have to trust the universal J or <smiles> to give us the visual clues we miss out on in the digital age of communication.

We cannot walk down the street without seeing someone on a cell phone, whether it is for business or personal reasons. Although on the surface cell phones may seem really convenient, they keep us continually connected with the world. We can now check our email, the weather, or the latest sports scores at the touch of a button. We are also moving towards having all cell phones double as global tracking devices. How does this really make our lives better? The fact is that many times, we charge ahead without thinking about the ramifications of added technology. All of the connectivity that cell phones offer comes at a price. We give up personal time and space. It used to be that if someone called you at home and you weren't there, they called back later. Now, we are immediately accessible. Even if the phone does not interrupt personal time, it interrupts activities with others. Technology beckons us to exchange valuable time with those around us for time spent with metal and plastic.

"Snail mail", although still widely used, is greatly surpassed by the volume of emails that are sent back and forth daily through cyberspace. As a child I remember eagerly anticipating the mail every day so that I could walk down to the end of my driveway to see if I had received a letter. More often than not, there was nothing for me, but I was thrilled whenever I found a letter with my name on it. I felt flattered that someone thought to send me a letter. Today, I still enjoy waiting for the mail. Emails and instant messaging encourage people to be less personal with communication. They are very convenient, but encourage quick, small conversations that are often trivial. We feel as though writing a personal letter is almost too inconvenient to bother, even though we have all experienced the euphoria of sending and receiving personal "snail mail."

Technology undoubtedly has helped us to progress as a society. Faster communication, advances in medicine, and more work efficiency are all wonderful. However, we can have too much of good thing. We can become technology addicts. Imagine a future where we need group therapy for technology addiction. People of all ages would be treated for the side effects such as hearing and vision loss, socialization issues, and a general loss of enthusiasm for all life outside of technology. Or is that future already here?
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