15 Ways Technology Is Making Us Less Human
Like Frankenstein’s monster rising from his laboratory table and wreaking havoc on the citizens of Switzerland, people of the digital age are struggling to discover who they are and how they fit into an increasingly confusing new world of previously unimagined technology. Here are 15 ways in which technology is effectively changing us — resulting in humans that are markedly different from the humans of just a few generations ago.
1. Multitasking Is Rewiring Our Brains
The brain is a mysterious organism that apparently responds quite strongly to the immediacy of technology and the Internet. According to the New York Times, all the incoming stimuli of phone calls, texts, emails and constantly changing websites causes sweet, sweet dopamine squirts to excite our brains; without this stimulation, people get bored, making them actually addicted to technology.
2. No One Has To Look At Anyone Else
And it turns out that we are taking advantage of this phenomenon in full force. Communications-analytics company Quantified Impressions tells the Wall Street Journal that adults make eye contact 30 to 60 percent of the time during the average conversation — but we should be doing this more like 60 to 70 percent of the time if we want to make an emotional connection. Since smartphones afford us 24/7 access to the Internet, apps, email, games and more, it can be tough to give someone your full attention; however, next time you get the unstoppable urge to look at your phone during a conversation, try dropping it and start awkwardly but sincerely looking people in the eyes. They’ll probably be mildly creeped out and want to look at their phone, too, but they’ll also appreciate the effort.
3. We Have More Friends But Are More Isolated
Having more connections is great… as long as you’re actually connected with those connections. A 2009 Pew research study found that despite the rise of social networks, the average size of Americans’ “core discussion networks” has dropped by about a third since 1985. The diversity of these networks has also declined. This may seem surprising in such a connected era, but the reasons are fairly simple: People are now able to interact with those not in their local area, so they tend to ignore their neighbors more than they used to. However, the percentages in this study were not very large, and the researchers actually found that bloggers and Internet users were more likely to visit public places like parks and coffee shops than non-bloggers and people who did not use the Internet, proving that maybe the real issue here is that people would rather interact with strangers than with their neighbors.
4. Watches Are Largely Obsolete
How many people do you know who wear a watch? How many people do you know who don’t even own a watch and use their phone to check the time? How many do you know who wear a watch but check the time on their phone anyway? Someone somewhere probably has a complicated mathematical formula and scientifically accurate Venn diagram for this; either way, a long-enduring tradition is dying out and people are increasingly relying on electronic devices to tell them what time it is.
5. There Are Endless Ways To Procrastinate…
… which means less productivity. A February article in the Telegraph cites a survey done in the U.K. by motivational aid site Webtrate that found over 60 percent of people surveyed lost their train of thought when working due to the distraction of email or social media. 36 percent of respondents said they lost more than an hour of productivity each day.
Recently, Scott Wallsten, a senior researcher at the Tech Policy Institute, released a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research in which he analyzed the amount of time people spend on the Internet versus the amount they spend doing other things. He found that for every minute of online “leisure time,” people spent an average of 0.27 fewer minutes working. This equates to 2.7 fewer minutes working for every 10 minutes spent online — or more than a quarter of each hour of work.
6. It Affects Our Sleep
You know those articles you’re always seeing about how glowing screens at night are really bad for your natural sleep cycle? Yep, they’re true. According to the National Sleep Foundation, even small electronic devices emit enough light to trick our brains into thinking it’s time to be awake.
7. Relationships Are No Longer Manageable
According to Oxford evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, 150 is the maximum number of “meaningful” relationships that the human brain can handle — any more than that, and there’s no sense of community. Unfortunately for those with 500 Facebook friends and 1,800 Twitter followers, this means that the majority of those connections are not stable; our brains simply aren’t capable of keeping up with that many people.
8. The Internet Is Taking Over Real Life
Much like the way the Internet is sucking away your precious sleep and work time, it’s also affecting your downtime. The same study that found Americans are wasting time at work on the Internet also found that 10 minutes of online time resulted in 2.9 fewer minutes of offline leisure time, including socializing, “relaxing and thinking,” going to cultural events and going to parties.
9. We Don’t Memorize Things Anymore
It’s not just phone numbers; it’s everything. Salon notes that with a world’s worth of information available at the touch of a button or click of a mouse, it’s easy to rely on Google rather than our brains to retain information. The instantaneous nature of search engines also makes people less likely to ask thoughtful questions and seek out thoughtful answers; it’s all about effort, and our desire to expend effort on things is shrinking.
10. Instant Gratification Is At Our Fingertips At All Times
Devices like Google Glass allow the user to be as connected as they want to be, which can lead to serious addiction, as one U.S. man recently found out after wearing his Google Glass for about 18 hours a day. While being treated for alcoholism, which requires patients to abandon all electronic devices, according to the Guardian, the unidentified U.S. Navy serviceman displayed irritability, physical tics that involuntarily mimicked the motion used to turn on the Google Glass display and even began having dreams that he was wearing the glasses. It’s official: Technology has begun haunting your dreams, and there’s no way to stop it except for a detox program.
11. Scandals And Theft Are Commonplace
Personal information is available for the taking; hacking scandals seem to hit major companies every week; nude photo leaks appear to be the new normal. Not only is it disturbing how little security there really is in our fragile digital world, it also raises the issue of desensitization — that is, when these things become commonplace, people become immune to concerns about security, making hacking all the more commonplace because no one expects their information to be safe.
12. We Know Way Too Much About People, And That’s Sad
Things that were once relatively private, such as baby pictures, bank account numbers, naked pictures and political opinions are now all out there, while relationships have to be announced and un-announced on social media. Oversharing is a major symptom of the digital age; this makes our lives weirdly public, and also has the unintended side effect of making us sadder and less satisfied, according to a recent University of Michigan study. As researcher John Jonides tells NPR, this “sets up social comparison — you maybe feel your life is not as full and rich as those people you see on Facebook.”
13. Manners Are No Longer Necessary
There may be small pockets of reasonable, polite people on the Internet, but for the most part it’s a dank hellhole populated by those who take anonymous joy in terrorizing, stalking, threatening and otherwise making others miserable and fearful. Things that most people would never say to another person’s face are now freely bandied about because no one ever has to see anyone else in real life.
14. Information Is More Tenuous Than Ever
Information is more freely available and instantly accessible; that’s good. It’s also increasingly inaccurate; that’s bad. A 2009 Pew research study shows that only 29 percent of Americans at the time thought the press generally got its facts straight, while 63 percent thought it was consistently inaccurate. Sure, you can chalk this up to opinion, but remember all the wild inaccuracies reported during the Boston bombing? And let’s not forget the rumors bandied about during the Sandy Hook shootings, including the erroneous fact that there were two gunmen, as well as the fact that the wrong person was initially reported as the shooter.
15. Technology Affects Our Dreams
It doesn’t just haunt your dreams; it also makes you more likely to dream in color. A 2008 study conducted at the University of Dundee found that people who were raised with black and white TV were more likely to dream in grayscale; in fact, the study found that only people with “black and white” media experience might be able to truly experience black and white dreams. According to Mashable, younger participants almost always dreamed in color. Sweet dreams!