Is Technology Slowing Us Down?

BY 2 January 2017 Uncategorized

is-technology-making-us-dumb

She was beautiful. Elegant and sophisticated, she bounded up the pub’s staircase. For a moment, I felt jealous of the person(s) she was meeting.

She looked happy. Until she came across a speed breaker: a guy shooting the lounge’s stairway on his smartphone. Maybe he was an influencer. Or a self-proclaimed food connoisseur.

Politely, she requested for space. He didn’t budge. She waited a few seconds before raising her voice. This time, he let her pass without lowering the phone. Both grimaced. Then he returned to shooting the pub’s staircase and walls.

I turned to tell my friend what I saw. But she was busy with her phone. With nothing better to do, I sipped on my beer and glanced around.

Almost everyone had their noses buried in their phones.

Surely the world was not so interesting! Nothing of historic significance occurred in the world 24/7. Then what was everyone looking for?

The Rat In The Cage

In 1930, B.F. Skinner, a psychologist at Harvard University, made a box and placed a hungry rat inside it. The box had a lever. As the rat moved about, it bumped into the lever and a food pellet dropped. After being placed in the box a few times, the rat went straight for the lever: the behavior led to a positive reward.

Skinner noticed that once the rat figured the pattern out, it pushed the lever only when hungry. So he made some modifications. When the rat pushed the lever, it sometimes got one food pellet, sometimes several. And sometimes it got none. If the rat didn’t know what it would get, it pushed the lever over and over again. It became psychologically hooked. Each time, the rat wondered, “what will I get?” This became known as the principle of variable rewards.

how to stop social media addiction

When we unlock our smartphones, we subconsciously crave for variable rewards. We browse Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, with the thought, “What will I get?” This variable reward makes us refresh social media feeds and email inbox repeatedly.

Of course, we cannot ignore the release of oxytocin – the cuddle chemical. 10 minutes on social media can raise oxytocin levels by up to 13 percent. That’s hormonal spike equal to what people experience on their wedding day.

This combination of variable rewards and release of oxytocin has made us rats in a cage. And it has slowed us down. Drastically!

People use their smartphones everywhere. In elevators, for instance. Even without network. I’ve seen people miss their floors because of Whatsapp. Ditto with people in queues. It’s the norm to use smartphones if people wait – at banks, stations or even McDonalds.

It’s funny. People secretly enjoy waiting now. And they are slower in responding. To their names, or when someone speaks to them, or to oncoming traffic.

Each smartphone today has a thousand times more processing power than the computers that guided astronauts to the moon. For most people today, technology means smartphones. So, technology should have helped us colonize Mars and two other planets by now. We should have made alien contact and breakthrough discoveries on Singularity.

What happened? Where did we miss a step?

Our addiction to technology has impeded us in two ways.

Productivity Has Fallen

how to increase productivity and stay away from social media

In a world where we brag about 24/7 connectivity, our phones keep buzzing. But we rarely receive calls. Social media notifications, useless emails and instant messages have made us multitaskers. This ability now finds a special mention on our resumes. Multitaskers are rockstars.

But multitasking reduces our productivity by up to 40 percent. Each time we are interrupted, it takes us twenty three minutes to refocus. Before ten of those twenty three minutes are up, we get distracted again. Is it surprising that these are the least productive times in the history of mankind?

Questions Have Changed

how social media has made us dumb

In the good old days, we woke up each morning and asked ourselves, “What should I do today?” People made mental to-do lists, went about their routines, and got stuff done.

Today, the question is “what did I miss while I was away?” A whopping sixty percent people touch their smartphones before doing anything when they wake up. They check social Facebook and Instagram (“what did others do?”), Twitter, email and Instant Messaging (“what did others say?”).

Before smartphones, people met at places to catch up with each other. Now, when people want to catch up, they open Zomato. This changes the question from “Where should we catch up?” to “Which place has the best menu and ambience?” Instead of conversing with friends, people focus on the best angle to click photos. Discussions revolve around the best filter to make the photos look better. Then, they post it online in a quasi version of fastest-finger-first. The elation felt when people respond to their photos is the reward for this competition.

Here are four interesting statistics and anecdotes which highlight how our dependence on technology is hurting us:

  1. Social media platforms and notifications made 58 percent employees waste between two to ten hours at work in 2011 every day, according to Forbes.
  2. Columbia University’s Professor Betsy Sparrow highlights our reliance on the internet for memory. It’s the same as relying on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker. “We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found,” she says.
  3. A Fairfield University study in 2003 found that taking photos reduces our memory. “This extends to personal memories, as constantly looking at the world through the lens of our smartphone camera may result in us trusting our smartphones to store our memories for us,” they speculate. “This way, we pay less attention to life itself and become worse at remembering events from our own lives.”
  4. Heavy social media users get emotional hits with new interactions, explains renowned product designer Noelle Moseley. Her survey respondents stated they “spent all their hours thinking about how to organize [their] lives in order to take pictures to post on social media.” This made them stressed and unhappy because they weren’t able to enjoy what they did. Moseley felt it was like a sickness.

Also Read: What I Learned After Breaking Up With Social Media

Our ability to memorize and remember is at an all-time low. When we face a challenge, we pick our smartphones for a dose of instant gratification. In turn, it reduces our ability to focus. Extended exposure to social media reduces self esteem. This, in turn, leads to the colossal energy spent on mindless outrage today.

Smartphones allow us to share our opinions and stories within moments. They make us feel in control. But in reality, the same gadgets which make us feel empowered have enslaved us. No wonder we touch our phone up to 150 times each day.

The Solution: Minimalism

To regain focus (and intelligence), we must move towards minimalism. Joshua and Ryan (the Minimalists) describe the movement below:

“Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.”

Humans, deep down, are craftsmen. We find great satisfaction in creating something valuable. Unless we embrace complexity, vertical progress i.e. disruption, is difficult. Technology was, and is, a supplement to enhance our lives. When we treat it like that, it will aid us.

What are your thoughts? Has technology slowed us down? Or has it accelerated our progress?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vishal Kataria

    COMMENTS (17)

  1. Suzy

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    There are always pros and cons. I think technology has given us some wonderful advancements like connecting the world together. It’s all a matter of perspecitve and balance. This is the age of science and technology. Let’s encourage and move technology forward by focussing on its good points and strive to correct misuse. I’d like to challenge the “taking photos reduces memory” thought. In my view, it actually enhances my memory as each picture I take leads me back to that moment in time that I captured. good post and lots to think about.

    Reply

    • Vishal

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      Thanks Suzy. Indeed, technology is a facilitator if we use it like that. We must use technology to enhance our lives instead of getting addicted to it.

      The point about photos is research conducted in 2003. Memory here means the ability to recall the thoughts when needed. I think the more we look through the lens of a camera than our own eyes, we find it tough to recall what we saw, and have to rely on the photograph to do so.

      Reply

  2. Shilpa Gupte

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    Oh, that’s the one thing I notice when I step outdoors – 99% people walking around with their heads bent and their eyes glued to their smartphones, even on the main road! And, I abhor it! People have become addicted to their phones and it sure is a cause for concern! Communication in the real world have gone for a toss and relationships…well, today people are in a relationship with their smartphones.
    I have learnt a lesson and have learnt to use technology as a tool that will help me but not entertain me when I am low or alone. For that, I have my books and my people. And, I now realise that’s the best thing I have done for myself in a long time!

    Reply

    • Vishal

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      Your comment reminds me of something Karan Johar had said Shilpa. “The only faithful relation we have is with our smartphones.”

      It’s a positive step to not use smartphones when bored. Boredom actually stokes creativity and makes us better according to experts. Glad to hear you acknowledged how technology was slowing you down and corrected yourself.

      Reply

  3. Rekha

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    Before commenting I would like to confess that I’m a big time social media addict and my one and only goal this year would be to reduce my time on Social Media and improve my reading and writing.

    I absolutely agree with this: “But in reality, the same gadgets which make us feel empowered have enslaved us.”

    It has definitely affected the way we respond to people and situations and it has irreversibly affected our memorizing power. The issue is although we know all these, we cannot ignore the fact that we cannot do without social media in today’s world. For example, I get most of my work through people I know online, people who contact me through my profile or page.

    But this article is an eye-opener and a wake-up call for all of us to prioritize our time. Loved reading such in-depth analysis, Vishal.

    Reply

    • Vishal

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      Thanks Rekha. I’m not trying to downplay the significance of technology in this post. The internet and technology have made information ubiquitous, and have shifted power from the hands of creators into the hands of consumers.

      We must stay updated with all of that happening around us by making use of technology instead of it using us.

      Reply

  4. Ramya Rao

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    I was just wondering today how interaction with my mom has reduced drastically because I am busy on Twitter or Instagram. And yes, people these days are always on phone. Check in at every moment, sharing private lives and wasting time instead of making memories. Because we are busy cursing Airtel for their data pack.
    Japan’s idea of minimalism in things could be applicable here I agree. Also a conscious decision you know. It isn’t that easy to let go of a bad habit. Unlearning you see.

    Reply

  5. Suman Kher

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    A hard hitting post! Especially the points about reducing memory and productivity levels!! Wow! We do live in a chaotic world crying for our attention.

    Also, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I love the way you build your post and also the way you write it! Great writing is food for the soul! Thank you! :)

    Reply

  6. Beloo Mehra

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    I, like many others, spend a lot more time than is necessary with my phone! This must change, I realize that. While I often tell myself that most of my time on internet is spent reading some article or researching for a topic etc, and while this is true to a large extent I also know that I spend much time reading silly social media updates and tweets. That must change. I was somewhat familiar with some of what you write here, but reading it all in this comprehensive post really helps me recognise why it is important to change some of these habits. Thanks Vishal for this important reminder!

    Reply

  7. Shailaja V

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    Social media, its use and mis-use, is an all-time favourite topic of mine, as you’d know by now. We are in an age when most of us get our work done online. My work depends on social media engagement (as in my paid job), so it’s my requirement to stay in touch with updates in social media use and take the best out of what I read. Ever since I realised that my engagement with social media must happen as a tool rather than an addiction, it’s helped me incredibly. Sea change is what I’d call it. And I’m the better for it.

    I doubt we can do away with tech completely and it’s definitely true that we’ve gained a lot from social media in our lives, personally and professionally. The key is balance, I find. And for that, we need to make the effort.

    Reply

    • Vishal

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      “….my engagement with social media must happen as a tool rather than an addiction”

      I love the insight Shailaja. We cannot do away with technology (in fact, we shouldn’t try, else we will become like the luddites). But we must use technology, not let it use us.

      Thanks for dropping by.

      Reply

  8. My Era

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    I like to believe that I’m a minimalist and de-cluttering my surroundings, my mind and life in general has been my prime focus from quite sometime. Given that, I have been working really hard to indulge in social media wisely, though there have been times when failed but overall, I think am pretty much balanced in my use of technology.

    I loved this thoroughly researched post because it helps us see the impact of the investment of our lives we have made in return of the many gifts technology has gifted us. The irony of the situation is, we want to be more present in the moment, be genuine in whatever we do but at the same time want to record it on social media as a proof, that’s where the real trouble begins.

    A very Happy New Year to you Vishal, looking forward to reading many more fantastic posts on your blog this year!

    Reply

    • Vishal

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      Thank you ME. A very Happy New Year to you and your family too. Yes, wanting to be present in the moment and recording it for uploading on social media is a dichotomy. However, I feel we have lost sight of the former, and primarily look at most things from the lens of how it will appear on social media.

      Blessed are the few (including you) who are minimalists. Cheers!

      Reply