Technology is becoming our worst addiction

by Stacey Oparnica

Artwork courtesy of staff artist Rob Piper
Artwork courtesy of staff artist Rob Piper

I’m deleting your friends on Facebook, tearing down the walls of your house on Second Life, digging up your crops on FarmVille and seizing your precious iPhone, TV and MacBook. If I had just accomplished this miraculous mission, how would you feel? Would you feel free, relieved even? Or would you be overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness?

Considering most of us cannot even imagine going a single day without using one of our electronic devices, I think it’s safe to say our dependence on technology has finally reached a dire and detrimental breaking point.

The invasion of these gadgets has completely taken control of our lives, morphing us into pixel-crazed zombies while simultaneously fueling an obsessive global fixation on the virtual world.

For the skeptics who refuse to acknowledge the extent and gravity of our technological obsession, consider the results of a recent survey conducted by Nielsen, which revealed half of all Americans have a social networking profile and spend about 23 percent of their time on social networking websites.

The staggering figures aren’t difficult to believe when considering Facebook has roughly 500 million active members around the world who collectively spend more than 700 billion minutes a month perusing the site.

I could hack away forever at the countless studies about media use, hoping they could dispense the dosage of reality we so desperately need, but it is our own individual scrutiny of technology’s negative effects on our culture that will allow us to truly comprehend the extent of our addiction.

Simply take a minute to observe what a typical social gathering with friends and family has disintegrated into, seemingly overnight. Instead of engaging in a continuous and attentive conversation, many tune out mid-sentence to text, e-mail or check their Facebook or Twitter, consequently instigating others to do the same. The clicking of QWERTY keypads quickly replaces laughter and conversation; illuminated by the light of their cell phone screens, friends are suddenly too busy tweeting about how much fun they’re having to actually enjoy their company.

Sadly enough, we may spend more time chatting about our lives than actually living them. A study conducted last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed “… 8 to18 year-olds devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes … to using entertainment media across a typical day, which is more than 53 hours a week. And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ — using more than one medium at a time — they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes … worth of media content into those seven and a half hours.”

You’d think with the amount of time and energy people invest into their virtual worlds, they would need a break every so often — not so. Apparently, about two-thirds of young people say the TV is usually on during meals, and just under half say the TV is left on “most of the time” in their home, even if no one is watching.

What this tells me is that we’re afraid of being out of the loop, afraid of being disconnected. Like brainwashed fanatics, our minds are working around the clock, subconsciously searching for the next fix, the next notification, the next vibration to alert us from the other side. This begs the question of whether or not, during the course of a day, we are ever completely detached from technology. Even more curious is how we would be affected if, for an extensive period of time, we were not granted access to our gizmos and gadgets of choice.

To put a spin on this, take a look at the recent poll by The New York Times / CBS News, which revealed the countless layoffs caused by the recession actually gave way to men and women spending more time with their families, consequently resulting in a 23.5 percent increase in sales of board games in 2008. Now imagine for a second that all forms of technology suddenly ceased to function; having a conversation with someone would mean speaking instead of typing, and people would spend time with each other for the enjoyment, not to douse the event in limelight for all of Facebook to see.

Instead of staring at a TV screen with a headset on and controller in hand, people would play games with each other. The virtual life, which we so often value more than the life around us, would cease to exist. We would no longer watch the world from our bedroom windows, but would step outside to live it.

—Stacey Oparnica is a journalism sophomore.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.