So Many Ways to Communicate Yet We Are More Isolated Than Ever
eople staring at their phone in public places is so common we don’t even notice anymore. Staring at a phone is the post card of our times. We all have some sort of smart device and constantly reach for it. We are hopelessly addicted to our phones. Connecting to this digital world though our private devices disconnects us from reality at the same time. But in this virtual world we have a strange and lonely existence. We only have avatars and thumbnails for companionship. All that is really happening: you are in front of a lifeless piece of plastic. We have a million ways to connect to others but are doing a poorer job than ever getting meaningful results. It was better when we didn’t have any gadgets because it made us step out of our comfort zone.
We are creatures of comfort and we’ll settle for what is most convenient and easy. If we just see a picture of a friend instead of seeing them in person, we’ll settle for that. We just stay in the comfortable world of our armchairs and call it a day. It’s a sad situation but we have become addicted to our laziness. We conveniently exchange the virtual idea of being with a friend for the real thing. Facebook is at the center of all of that, a very interesting tool with a nasty side effect.
Facebook has wonderful qualities. We can find old friends and remain connected to them and instantly know what they are having for breakfast half way across the globe. We can easily organize meetings and connect to any group we want. We are changing the world with Facebook and we can achieve real political impact. But perhaps because of this amazing power and flexibility a disturbing trend have emerged: we are virtualizing our reality.
It is a great thing to see our friends in this virtual world and know that they’re there. It’s a constant reminder we have friends. It’s very addicting because friends are one of the most precious gifts we have in this world. Friendship is power; the more friends we have, the richer we are. Facebook in a sense quantifies this. We can count how many friends we have and we can choose to talk to them or we can ignore them. When we feel sad we can turn to these virtual friends and feel instantly gratified. When we have had enough, we can turn them off. It’s all about having control over what we don’t want to see in our friends. This is great but the problem is that is not real. It creates byproducts such as deep dissatisfaction, boredom and depression.
Even though our friends are real in some way out there, Facebook only gives us a representation of friendship. In the real world, people we call Facebook friends are only potential friendships waiting to be realized but through real person-to-person contact. The more we look at Facebook, the more we think Facebook interactions are real so the more we rely on Facebook the more unsatisfied we become. Frustration can be evidenced by Facebook burnout when people delete their account but come back later because the whole thing is so addictive. Probably the reason it is so addictive is because it mimics the way any addiction works in our brain.
The reward pathway in our brain releases the most dopamine when we anticipate a reward . We get the biggest pleasure kick in the moments prior to receiving the anticipated reward. Having said that, we are completely powerless to the desire to click that next page and check our e-mail one more time or to see if someone liked our cute cat video. The brain never gets tired of doing that because dopamine is being released by the brain when you reach for the phone as if it is the actual act that brings pleasure. And you just keep coming back for more. The electronic gadget industry works hard producing sexier and more colorful phones with more features to seduce us into oblivion. And oblivion is that we get.
This is getting so out of hand I feel like I’m among zombies when I walk down the street. People looking at their phones with a blank stare, their minds far away in an imaginary existence that is completely fabricated by Samsung or Apple. On the highway I look to my side and I see every single person texting while they drive. I think it would be safer if they’re drunk – but that might be happening too.
People travel to distant countries seeking to enrich their lives but miss everything because they are too busy looking at their phones most of the time. At our family gatherings we no longer need to talk to anybody and find out how much we disagree; everyone can comfortably escape to their own private little world inside their tablets, phones, and laptops where we are in control of our reality. We are creatures of comfort but we have become victims of our own creation. Somehow I think we had more when we had less. The new generation was born into this tech world and don’t even know what it was like without Internet or computers.
When we have the whole world delivered to our hands, boredom sets in because we are deprived of the funfest part: creativity and imagination. It’s like an evil catch 22; the more things we have the less we have, and the more effective we become the more dysfunctional we are. It all started with our old answering machines. Some people are just too young to remember, but before we had answering machines people actually answered their phones. If you called somebody, they picked up their phone. Today people don’t feel the obligation to connect and they only do it if it’s convenient to them.
We live in a weird paradox. The more friends we have on Facebook the less we see them. The more phones we have the less we actually talk to each other. The more ways we have in which to communicate the less communication we achieve. The more e-mails you receive the higher the chance you’ll never even read them. It is like diabetes: when your cells are exposed to so much insulin they become insulin resistant. So what can we do to prevent drowning in this sea of confusion?
I struggle with this issue like everyone and I have a hard time practicing what I preach. I use Facebook every day but it makes a huge difference if you limit the time you look at it. The longer you look at the pages the more you get trapped thinking that this is reality. The shorter you look the more chances your brain has to separate reality from fiction.
Controlling your phone is the hardest task. I found that a large phone with gorgeous screen is the hardest to resist. After I got a new Samsung phone, it became almost impossible to stop looking at it every 10 minutes. So next time I’m going to get a simpler phone. In the end it is just like anything else…practice makes perfect. You just have to go cold turkey and tie your hand somewhere so you don’t reach for your phone. I now have a company phone so I can keep my personal phone stashed somewhere else so I can’t reach easily.
This complicated and excessively rich times we live in offers us a world of opportunity to stay present. We should start noticing what is around us or simply pay attention to everybody else in their zombie state. By being present and in the moment we can see everything from where we are. There is a beauty in all of this, even when we see people starring at their phones, we can enjoy the quietness and see if we can attract their attention to the present – I sometimes do it as a game. Having all of this technology gives us a kind of responsibility, all these new resources can either empower us or they can distract us. If you are reading this post from your phone, then I salute you (and I don’t want to be a hypocrite). All these things are harmless if you are aware of them. Know your phone is just a phone and not your life.
- Clinical Report—The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families
- Disentangling pleasure from incentive salience and learning signals in brain reward circuitry
Image credit: michael davis-burchat