It was a normal day. As always, I got on a public bus to go back home from college. I noticed something I did not notice before: There were about 10 people in the vehicle with 8 of them, except two old ladies somewhere in their 60s, putting their headphones on. I realized the days when strangers meeting in public places or vehicles started conversation about politics, or some new movie that had come into the cinemas or other more trivial topics so they could make their time a little enjoyable. These days the people, mostly youngsters, as they get into a public transport or have to walk a little distance, have their gadgets ready to go. Whether it’s a player in your cell phone, where it’s an mp3 player or even the most popular iPod, about 5 out of ten people walking or riding in a public transport have it connected to their ears through a headphone. As I was thinking about all this, two teenage girls from the vehicle got off, put their headphones away in their bags and as they paid the driver, they talked about their college assignments. I was quite taken aback. The two, who were like complete strangers to each other a while ago under the headphones, were friends from the same college.
This is not just about the music gadgets. As the lifestyle of the people is changing, the use of electronic gadgets and overuse use of the Internet are also a feature of modernity.Today, in a city like Kathmandu it is rare that you meet a person who doesn’t have a Facebook page. It’s good to use technology, but when you start using it more than it is necessary, and then problems arise. Having a Facebook page, being available 24/7 through your smart phone or appearing online throughout the day is certainly not a bad idea. But then, you have to know that you have a problem regarding technology when you HAVE to sleep with you “smart” phone on your bedside , or you’d rather text friends then talk face-to face with them, you can’t stay patiently without regularly checking your inbox or your phone for new messages, when your earpiece of cell phone becomes a regular part of your attire and when talking with virtual friends over the internet becomes more important than spending time with your family or doing some other thing that you enjoy not involving the computer.
Most of the families had their share of days while sitting on the dining table for dinner. Now the son becomes busy with his PlayStation and the daughter is talking with her friend over the mobile. It is not just about decreasing level of communication among the family members, but also about the isolation of individuals. Decreased physical interaction replaced by virtual ones, according to recent debates, can make people dumb.
When writing was invented for the first time, the famous Socrates had quoted: “[it] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust the external written characters and not remember of themselves.” It is somewhat the same with the technology that people are being increasingly dependent on today.
For example, the recent articles on new technologies have claimed that PowerPoint reduces analysis to simple bullet points, excessive Google makes us stupid, and social web pages like Facebook and Twitter can compress our attention span.
Also, recently, a new idea has cropped up. Neuroscientists claim that new technologies, particularly, the social media and the flow of information we have through internet have changed how we think and behave. In short, our brain on computers undergoes re-wiring as we use hourly–laptop, and desktop computers, smart phones, and other electronic devices. Experience, then, alters the brain.
You have to know the difference between using the technology to the fullest extent such that you get advantage from it and from when you become a techno dependent. Recent studies in America have shown that when you use too much of technology that you become dependent on it, it triggers the same site in your brain that is triggered by substance abuse and non-chemical additives such as gambling. In a study, when a group of youngsters from a school were asked to go without any kind of technology for one day and later asked for their response, they used exact terms of addiction to describe their dependency mentioning feelings of anxiety, isolation, depression and even physical reaction such as increased heart rate. Although further studies are required to establish these claims, this does provide us with disturbing reality about what might happen due to excessive technology use.
Although we have not yet reached a state where we need to urgently address the problem of techno dependency, the ongoing rate at which youngsters are using the new gadgets, that situation doesn’t seem far way. The concept of “together alone”, where we’re surrounded by people, but everyone is so engaged in their technology that they might as well be alone, might be already prevalent in the modern, nuclear families of Kathmandu. Small things like bringing back the culture of family dinners can be of great help. This allows the family to reconnect specially with the youngsters who in the other times are stuck to the gadgets. Also, disengaging from the technology for the weekends and switching off your smart phones at night time (why not go back to the primitive landline phones once in a while?) can help you control your dependency.
Saying all this, in no way am I trying to defy the use of modern technology. It all goes to how you use what you have. The old saying about fire, about it being useful or destructive, according to its use, might be very much applicable to the use of the technology today.
Sharma is a fourth year medical student in Kathmandu Medical collage