What’s the first thing you did when you woke up today? Did you reach for your phone?
We as a species are not meant to look at screens all day, but yet we can’t stop ourselves.
It’s not breaking news that most people are addicted to their technology, but many may not know that smartphones are actually designed to be addictive, thus making it far more difficult for them to disentangle themselves.
While that’s even more reason to do so, anyone that has ever gone on a phone or tech detox knows that the withdrawal symptoms are real. It’s a drug, one humans simply cannot handle.
It took thousands of years for sapiens to evolve into our current selves, but our technology has grown exponentially in mere decades — and our brains can’t keep up.
There is a famous story about a group of moviegoers around the turn of the nineteenth century stampeding out of the theater because there was a train coming directly at the screen and they were terrified it would slaughter them.
While the story is almost certainly apocryphal, it does shine a light onto how humans interact with technology, not logically, but emotionally, even primordially. For eons, a human being only saw what was right in front of it. When drawings and paintings began to appear, some were magnificent but they did not move. It was obvious they were not real. I have seen the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in person and it is stunning, but no one will ever confuse it with reality.
Beginning with the advent of photographs in the mid-1800s, humans now saw reality without being actually there to see it. Thus began the increasingly accelerated snowball of technology that has consumed — and confounded — our species for a century-and-a-half. Motion pictures came soon after and now, for the first time in the history of humankind, we could see something move that wasn’t really there. Upon seeing a lion moving, we are programmed to be scared because every other human before 1890 that saw a lion move was close enough to be eaten by one.
Today, that’s nothing. Virtually reality allows humans to create entire universes to inhabit — why question the existence of God when you can act as God yourself? (Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, for all of its flaws, could be prophetic in its depiction of humankind that avoids problems by living life online.)
This is also true of social media. It wasn’t that long ago that people only interacted with those few with whom they spoke on the phone, wrote letters, or saw in person. Now, they can interact with everyone individually. When the Pope gives a speech, droves of people turn out to hear him, but he can’t hear all of them respond. When Kim Kardashian tweets, she can read each and every person’s specific reply to her.
The Twitter feed is a fire hose of information that simply cannot be digested. Have you ever read something, kept scrolling, and found yourself thinking about it thirty seconds later and going back to it? That’s because your brain is struggling — and failing — to keep up.
Smartphones are making people dumber. People have all of the information available to them, yet they retain none of it. In fact, they retain less than they used to. Some take it even further — asking you to Google something so they don’t have to.
Why bother to remember something when you can just look it up? In fact, why bother to even try to jog your memory when you can just look it up?
“They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it…”
While everyone is concerned with how much sitting they do every day, claiming that it’s not natural in an evolutionary sense, that’s nothing compared to what technology is doing to them, not just physically but also neurologically.
We live our lives surrounded by, and immersed in, things that we haven’t yet developed the capabilities to properly understand.
Yet we still can’t stop ourselves. I’m afraid we never will.
Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.