Have you ever stopped for a moment and looked around you? Maybe you lost all battery power on your smartphone and lifted your eyes to monitor real life for a nano-second. Yep, everyone else's faces are illuminated by a blue aura glow of a device as they happily (and silently) consume mega-bytes of information whilst being busy/productive/buying stuff/slacking (delete as appropriate).
As a children's author, I speak to many attention starved younger readers. It's true that many youngsters spend far too much time in a bedroom playing XBOX for hours on end - but stop and think of the example we set as busy adults. Kids often state they go lose themselves because Mum or Dad (or both) are just too busy to do real stuff together. Technology was supposed to be the great connector to our fast-moving modern lives, right? I am starting to feel that technology and especially social media can also be a highly efficient tool to separate us from each other. Imagine being the child without a social media account? That's one quick way to be a lone rider from the pack! I won't even get into cyber-bullying here, but we all recognise it's a real and growing problem.
Just recently the BBC reported on a technology addiction team based in a London clinic. Various aspects of modern-day behaviours are now depriving us of quality sleep and dramatically reducing our attention and memory levels. People are finding it harder to switch off from looking at some type of screen - they need that little dopamine rush when our brain is stimulated by something on the screen. Certain personality traits, especially the driven and competitive Type A, are likely to find themselves unable to switch off, they can't relax, if they do they crash into exhaustion. The casualty count is rising by the day.
The social impact of technology is nothing new and many people accept our relationship with technology as just human "progress". Imagine how society initially reacted to the introduction of the motor car, or the TV set. These things are now fully, and warmly, embraced like a family member and regarded as the social norm.....but what about the impact of technology on human emotions? If we are spending less face to face time with each other and doing less real stuff together...then what becomes of our ability to feel real emotions?
My firm contention is that modern life is slowly dehumanising us. Sure, now we can get more stuff done quicker but at what cost? There are 3 major modern distractions that combine to constantly add distance between us mere fleshy mortals...
1. Technology - the always-on smartphone generation. The people you see at a family meal at the restaurant, all busy ignoring each-other as they devour more preferable messages from the smartphone. Someone once said,"Attention is the purest form of generosity"- seems this doesn't apply when a notification makes the device vibrate!
2. Work - everyone is under pressure to "do more with less." Performance monitoring is now the workplace norm and it seems every occupation must have some red, amber, green rating to worry about. Add in new technology to the workplace, and we are ALWAYS ON. Memories of clocking off at 5pm fade before the next app is updated. Technology also tracks your geo-location. How long before work tracks our mental motivation levels? You may laugh at the idea, but earlier this year a company in the USA introduced employee chip implants in order to bring increased efficiency to business operations. Frightening stuff, but getting closer by the day. Many kids I listen to, often claim that they go to bed before Mum or Dad is back from work each night.
3. Over-consumerism - we work so hard to earn money so we can then get nicer or bigger stuff (and it's all just stuff). That's the modern treadwheel cycle right? Work-Pay-Buy-Repeat. Trouble is, our appetite for newer or bigger stuff is never really satiated. Just as we fall in love with a new laptop, TV, car, clothes, etc - then some damn company goes and releases something much better. So much better, that a level of dis-satisfaction is then created and seeded into our weak ego....even though we already have stuff that perfectly serves our needs! Our fixation to acquire more stuff is a major environmental disaster of epic proportions and equates to a never-ending search for happiness. Buying new stuff makes us feel great...for a lunchtime. A new movement, The Minimalists, are gaining massive interest and real traction with hoards of people now realising that stuff is a distraction to finding inner happiness. Maybe it's time to declutter your life?
These 3 factors - Technology+Work+Over Consumption - are together transforming the modern-age human race. We are morphing into a generation of highly predictable robots. Programmed to be efficient, productive and reliable uber-compliant consumers, we ultimately generate more wealth for the large corporations by dutifully repeating the cycle of modern life without question.
Remember this though, if you don't use it, you lose it. So have a think of the things we are using less off. The real things that define happiness and memories. Stuff like verbal dexterity, deeper human interaction, intimacy, laughter, nature, love, even crying. If we don't exercise our emotions, then we will eventually lose them. In an age where mechanical robots are developing artificial intelligence and simulated emotions, the terrifying irony is that we humans are becoming more robotic as we surrender to modern life and consumerism.
Stop and think about that before you swipe to the next item on the screen and Click Buy.
Andrew Glennon is the Author of The Loneliest Robot - a new novel for children, teens and anyone with a human heart. It's a warm-hearted modern-day fable that teaches us about the stuff that really matters in life. This 5-star illustrated novel is available on Amazon.