Face-to-face becomes face-to-Facebook, eye contact becomes an IPhone contact, and personal connection becomes dependent on Internet connection. This is the digital age. Because a text message is easier than a letter, because an email is more efficient than a meeting because the ease of the connection outweighs the intimacy of the connection—this is the digital age.
There are many reasons to have digital technology—as technology companies never fail to remind us. But there are also many reasons to be mindful of digital technology (you know, no texting while driving.) By focusing on the positives, we fail to expose the negatives. Constant applause and constant pro-digital technology exposure prevents people from stepping back and recognizing the ominous undercurrent created by the wave of digital technology.
We observe dilemmas borne from digital technology usage on a daily basis: Students, administration and faculty who walk across campus with their faces buried in their smartphones, (I bet they have not yet noticed the change in foliage) or families out to dinner who only look up from their phones between bites of food or groups of teenagers who text friends miles away rather than conversing with those within arms reach. Our digital technology, despite the inherent convenience, removes us from fully engaging in our physical reality—we miss out on reality, in all its beautiful colors to submerge ourselves in the 0/1 binary of virtual reality.
But so what? What’s the big deal?
Well here’s one of the many problems: Through constant connection, people fail to engage in being alone. For some, this sentence appears out of place (Well duh, Andy. Of course I don’t want to be alone) but let me elaborate to make this point more clear. Solitude is an important part of self-development and self-realization. Constant connection to others fails to give adequate time to reflect; through boredom arises recognition of the self. When people instantly reach out to others the moment they feel alone—even if it is only a short time—a person misses out on the opportunity to be alone with their thoughts or toil with their emotions.
In Sherry Turkles, “Alone together,” she discusses the effects digital technology has on people. She states that “before we forge successful life partnerships, it is helpful to have a sense of who we are” Without solitude, people reduce the ability to understand who they are, and in doing so, fail to gain the ability to understand others. When a person’s solitude is interrupted by digital communications—by a world within our own world—we not only harm our relationship with ourselves, but also our relationships with everyone else.
So what else happens to us when we use digital technology?
Digital connection breeds physical anxiety. Digital technology’s pull on people is stronger than a person’s willpower to refrain from using it; when a cell phone vibrates we are compelled to look at our conversation occurring in virtual reality, despite the events unfolding in actuality. When every text is a new tidbit of information, and every tweet news, the pressure of staying connected can become overwhelming—what am I missing if I don’t stay up to date?
As Sherry Turkle puts it: “To feel safe, you have to be connected.”
The digital age is part of us now; it is a non negotiable. For better or for worse, digital technology is here to stay—it is here to thrive. As our conversations and interactions and connections begin to occur more frequently online, it is important that we note what we miss out on. Although there is something intimate about eye contact, although there is something breathtaking about hearing the cadence of the human voice, although there is nothing quite as warming as the human touch, the digital age isn’t about upholding what was once uniquely human and undeniably beautiful; it is about convenience. After all, this is the digital age.