Tuesday, February 16, 2016

January 16, 2016--Hooked?

For some time in this place I have written about my struggles to get comfortable with the new media. Especially "mobile devices," which I understand to mean primarily smartphones, while mobile devices down here in Florida are more walkers and wheelchairs.

I am feeling left behind as the two generations succeeding mine seem so naturally comfortable with texting, tweeting, and snap-chatting. I watch them thumbing their iPhones at preternatural speed as they dodge traffic on Broadway, while eating out, and when waiting on line to get into a club or movie.

Though viscerally discomforted by this--partly, if I'm honest, largely because this feeling of being left out is more personal than technological--I have tried to see something positive deriving from all of this hardware and software.

The amateur historian in me knows that there were similar, worrisome things said about the paradigm-shifting impact on culture, society, and the Church brought about by the Gutenberg Revolution and the resulting proliferation of books.

For the most part, that worked out well. But mobile devices that are now possessed by billions around the world and hundreds of millions mainly young people here in the United States, may be turning out to be quite a different, less benign or liberating story.

Are we seeing the emergence of a passive generation of techno-zombies hooked on connectivity?

To help sketch the extent of one aspect of this, here is an excerpt from Jacob Weisberg's essay in the most recent issue of The New York Review, "We Are Hopelessly Hooked":

Hands and minds are continuously occupied texting, e-mailing, liking, tweeting, watching YouTube videos, and playing Candy Crush. 
Americans spend an average of five and a half hours a day with digital media, more than half of that time on mobile devices, according to the research firm eMarketer. Among some groups, the numbers range much higher. In one recent survey, female students at Baylor University reported using their cell phones an average of ten hours a day. Three quarters of eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds say that they reach for their phones immediately upon waking in the morning. Once out of bed, we check our phones 221 times a day--an average of every 4.3 minutes--according to a UK study. 
This number may actually be too low, since people tend to underestimate their own mobile usage. In a 2015 Gallup survey, 61 percent of people said they checked their phones less frequently than others they knew. . . . 
What does it mean to shift overnight from a society in which people walk down the street looking around to one in which people walk down the street looking at machines? We wouldn't be always clutching smartphones if we didn't believe they made us safer, more productive less bored, and were useful in all the ways a computer in your pocket can be useful. 
At the same time, smartphone owners describe feeling "frustrated" and "distracted." [Though] in a 2015 Pew survey, 70 percent of respondents said their phones made them feel freer while 30 percent said they felt like a leash. Nearly half the eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year olds said they used their phones to "avoid others around you."

Weisberg then cites Sherry Turkle's book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age:

The picture she paints is both familiar and heartbreaking: parents who are constantly distracted on the playground and at the dinner table; children who are frustrated that they can't get their parents' undivided attention; gatherings where friends who are present vie for attention with virtual friends; classrooms where professors gaze out at a sea of semi-engaged multitaskers; and a dating culture in which infinite choices undermines the ability to make emotional commitments.

It does feel like a very new world. I will continue to struggle to get comfortable with it and to find good things to say about where we are headed. In the meantime I do have my books.

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