junior from Bowling Green, Ky.
Smart phones, social media and television are tools used by humankind to facilitate the spread of news, ideas and art. In an ideal society such communication would be the oil on the gears of democracy and the spotlight illuminating injustice. The unfortunate reality is democratic elements in our republic are rusted and injustice is rampant. Technology, instead of illuminating problems, seems to be making them worse. We seem more interested in tweeting about Lady Gaga’s newest outfit than facing the enormous problems threatening our country and the world.
One problem is how easily distracted we have become as a result of constant access to so many forms of communication. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are forgotten when we change channels, a video on YouTube showing the murder of innocents is forgotten when we check Facebook and that homeless man in the street looks a little bit less worrisome to the tune of our favorite song blaring through our ear buds. Even though we have an unprecedented level of exposure to news we are too distracted to care. Knowledge is power, but only when it results in meaningful action.
Sadly, it seems much easier to ignore the injustice in our society and our personal lives when digital distraction is just a click away. We have in this country a bill of rights and a constitution meant to protect us from injustice and ensure the survival of democracy. But these weapons in the war against tyranny mean nothing if left unused. The right to a free press is irrelevant if the public does not use what they read to their advantage. Likewise, the right to free speech is irrelevant if used only to proclaim love for Justin Bieber on Facebook.
I am not arguing that technology cannot be an asset to democracy. The role of social media in the protests that swept the Middle East this spring is a wonderful example of technology’s potential for positive influence. Even here in the States, cell phones and the Internet are widely used to organize people in the fight for liberty and social justice.
That being said, technology often allows people to have the illusion of being involved with a cause when their contribution is nearly meaningless.
It is way easier to join a Facebook group protesting the war in Afghanistan than it is to take part in civil disobedience for the same cause.
Only one of those options actually makes much of a difference. The problems facing our country are much too large to be fixed by signing online petitions and ‘Liking’ causes on Facebook. Yes, Twitter helped the Egyptians topple Mubarak, but the far more important factor was their willingness to get up off their asses and take the fight to the streets.
The distracting effects of technology extend to our personal lives as well. The speed and frequency people can communicate while not being in each others’ presence is increasing at an alarming rate.
There has, however, been no corresponding decrease in feelings of social isolation. For each advance in communication there is a decrease in how meaningful communications is. Even though social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook give an illusion of constant connection, the quality of communication on such websites is generally quite low when compared with face-to-face conversation.
Likewise, texting, which has exploded in popularity, is an example of exchanging quality for quantity. Think about what friends would appreciate more: an hour-long texting conversation or an hour-long phone call? Certainly all types of communication have their place. Texting is great when phone calls are inappropriate or obtrusive, social networking and email is awesome for keeping up long-distance friendships or keeping in touch with out-of-town relatives.
I am simply arguing that technology should be kept in its place and not be allowed to take over our lives. Face-to-face time needs to far exceed screen-to-screen time.
I know in writing this article I have risked sounding like some backward, paranoid caveman who wants to do away with technology, but this is not at all the case.
I believe recent advancements in communication have huge potential to improve our lives on both the interpersonal and societal level. But I think I have also made it clear that technology presents some potential pitfalls.
Instead of allowing technology to stupefy and control us, we need to harness its power to make the world a better place.