The Digital Dilemma –Key Findings and Reflection

When I started my experiment on the effects of new technology on our minds and culture, I already knew the answer, in that I knew that technology has changed our thoughts, language and behavior. It is undeniable. This is, as I found, an age-old question and fear of whatever new technology is altering the current culture. Even Plato, discussed in-depth the effect of the new technology of his time, writing. Specifically, in Phaedrus, character Phaedrus is discussing the negative effects he predicts will plague the culture due to writing becoming accessible to the masses, “[Writing] will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know nothing… And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.”

But I was curious if I could prove this among the 5 participants that agreed to be a part of my experiment. I wanted to see what else I could find out besides an all encompassing “yes.”

My participants were somewhat diversified, but also a lot alike in many ways. One key part of the experiment personally was to see if I would be accurate in my assumptions about participants’ responses since they are all people who I have known for some time.  See table 1.1 Significant Discoveries for more information on how each participant reacted to the presence of digital technology, specifically mobile phones, in their lives and my assumptions.

The key findings were that the Millennial generation had a stronger negative relationship with their phone than I assumed. It is so common to see Millennial on their phones that you would assume they really liked it and were getting some sort of pleasure out of using the device. However, throughout the experiment it was constantly reiterated that the phone has become like another responsibility to manage. Friends expect them to respond to a text or call in a matter of minutes or hours, and when they do not, it can be a point of real-life disagreement. At the same time, the one participant of an older generation found that the phone is a highly positive presence in her life and wishes that she knew how to operate it even more efficiently. However, it could be that she would feel the same way as the Millennials if she developed a comparable skill level.

After presenting my findings, I asked the audience for their perspective on the influence of digital technology, especially mobile devices, on our lives. It spiked great passionate conversation each time. One common thread of conversation was that the presence of digital technology does not need to be a negative presence. Instead, it is a matter of properly managing their presence in our lives. For example, in reference to the anxiety associated with being too accessible or needing to call someone back within a certain time span, the individual needs to set boundaries. One person may not be able to access their phone while at work or after 9pm. Another may prefer to answer messages when they are ready to answer the question. One solution would be to promise to always answer within one day. The stress comes from lack of understanding. In reference to the second most cited trouble with cell phones, distraction, individuals need to learn what standards for themselves will create an effective strategy to manage their time. It could be turning the phone on airplane mode while doing homework or eating dinner.

In my project I cited Lord Henry Wotton from The Picture of Dorian Gray when he states, “Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passion. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sin, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him” (pg 16).  My question was, is the influence of digital technology influencing us and thus making us echoes of our real selves? Have we given our souls up to technology? Among my audience, there was concern that people, and perhaps society as a whole, is basing a lot of self-worth, self-esteem and self-image on what is posted to social networks and the engagement those posts get. This too needs to be managed by the individual. The fear expressed is that our real selves are becoming echoes of our digital personalities. However, I would take this a step further to the possibility that we are losing sense of the real people around us and they appear to us as specters of their digital profiles, almost regardless of what they present in the analog. This needs further investigation as it is beyond the scope of my experiment.

Ultimately, this technology is not going to be the end of humanity. But it will be the end of humanity, as we know it. It will evolve our thoughts, our behavior, our language, and us. It will take a new type of management for us to learn to effectively use the technology in a way that is primarily beneficial to us and to our society. I am excited to see what the next piece of disruptive and disturbing technology is!

Table 1.1 Significant Discoveries

Participant

Age

Tech Savvy? (1-5)

Assumption on opinion of smartphones

Generally Positive Response to Technology?

Discoveries

Win

22

4

Not connected to phone, uses for practical and some games. Will believe tech is good but also a hassle. Yes, but it makes him too accessible. He doesn’t like feeling like he needs to constantly be available to reply to a text. Also sees it as a distraction. Feels negative pressure to respond to calls/texts in a timely manner.

Keli

22

4

Very connected to friends via texting. May not use voice calling often. Sees technology as a big positive. Yes, but proves to be almost as much a distraction and as much as it adds to productivity. Doesn’t like being able to be found too easily. Actually sees positives of phones as a potential negative when adversely affects productivity.

Tim

29

5

Very connected to phone through texting. Uses phone for research and apps predominately. Believes tech is very good and would miss if gone. Yes, but it is a big distractor in life. Too many text messages and ability to pick up the phone and quickly access information. Doesn’t use to call hardly at all. Sees phone primarily as a source of distraction over productivity.

Greg

27

5

Generally connected. Sees phone as a way to be responsible and connected. Uses for access to social networks and friends. Views it as a Yes, but finds it causes trouble in relationships when he does not respond quick enough. Believes that the phone is for recreation and emergencies. Feels negative pressure to respond to calls/texts in a timely manner.

Laura

50

4

Generally connected. Texts and calls almost equally. Uses some apps but more likely to use tablet or PC for internet searches. Yes, believes there is a lot more that she could be doing with the device than she currently can take advantage of. Likes connectivity. Uses for entertainment and social. Most positive about presence of phone despite being of older generation.
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