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Weekender: Is Technology the New Terror?

Technology has been around since the dawn of time. Not just tablets, phones, computers or television, but any device that has helped to facilitate the processes of daily life. A rock to bash things with, a stick to stir things with, a knife to kill or cut with, or even the wheel! But for most people, the term "technology" is associated with the recent wealth of digital media and cyber tools that have now proliferated across the planet into all corners of the world, and more specifically, the Internet and social media.

“The Internet has radically changed nearly every level of human experience in an incredibly short amount of time,” says Lee Siegel, author of Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob.

Even far-flung Inuit communities now use the Internet to communicate with one another, and this is said to have significantly affected their interest in traditional and cultural heritage.

”When we first got the Internet in our homes, there were hardly people out,” said Anna Qaunaq, economic development officer in one remote Inuit village. ”They were on the computer for hours on end. I was one of them. But it's been here for a few years now, and we've tried to make the best of it.”

But does technology positively or negatively enhance our lives? How does it affect our health?

One cannot dispute the fact that increasing advances in medical knowledge and expertise have definitely helped to save lives, but even in this area, our reliance on doctors and drugs to manage our ailments has led to a lack of personal responsibility for our own health. The fast-paced, "pill for an ill" culture has stopped us from giving priority to our own needs and requirements; any form of "dis-ease" is poorly tolerated, suppressed as far as possible with drugs and/or surgery, and the underlying causes largely ignored.

Technology that takes care of mundane tasks such as washing the dishes or clothes, or cutting the grass has been welcomed into our daily lives, but one could still argue that the energy that we used to expend on these tasks would have helped to keep us physically fitter. As technology replaces more tasks, more of us find that we are sitting at our computers for longer and longer periods of time, developing a thickening waistline and a variety of technology-specific ailments ranging from repetitive strain injury - "BlackBerry thumb" or "iPod finger"- to technology-induced hearing loss brought on by listening to very loud music or machinery.

The association between cancer and mobile phone usage is well-documented and has been researched for years; in 2011, the World Health Organization’s International Agency on Cancer classified this type of radiation as possibly carcinogenic, based on existing studies at that time. One of the latest studies conducted by French researchers has just revealed a link between heavy cell use and a higher incidence of brain cancers, suggesting that people with the longest cumulative cellphone use, more than 896 hours on the phone, were about twice as likely to have a glioma or meningioma than people who had talked less.

But technology is also said to affect our brains in other ways, by having huge impacts on our mental health.

Living in our virtual worlds of social media, where the majority of our communications take place via some form of technological device, where face-to-face interaction is becoming a scarcity, and where family members even message one another from different rooms in the house, is not, apparently, making us happier. A recent study concluded that Facebook users were, in general, far more depressed than non-users.

The study was conducted at the University of Michigan by psychologist Ethan Kross, whose team sent text message to eighty-two subjects five times each day. The volunteers were asked about their general state of well-being and mental health, their Facebook use and the amount of time they spent interacting with others. The study discovered that the more time the subjects had spent on Facebook between texts, the unhappier they were.

"On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection," state the researchers. "Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it."

A review of forty studies in 2010 confirmed Kross's results, that Internet use had a significant and detrimental effect on overall well-being by increasing feelings of alienation and envy.

The type of usage, whether active or passive, seemed to affect the responses of Facebook users: a 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon determined that direct interaction with others could boost feelings of well-being and bonding, whereas passive absorption of content lowered feelings of connection with others and increased their sense of loneliness. Unfortunately, evidence suggested that users spent far more time on passive use, such as scrolling through newsfeeds, which increased their sense of boredom.

The irony is that "social" media, whose purpose was primarily to enhance our relationships through improved communication, actually seems to have a detrimental effect on them; even active engagement can also be harmful, as indicated by another study that focused on the effects of social media interaction in romantic relationships. The 2009 study, published in the journal Cyberpsychology& Behavior, found evidence that Facebook use inspired feelings of jealousy between couples; these findings inspired and were confirmed by a later University of Missouri study, which established that both Twitter and Facebook created serious relationship problems, paving the way for emotional or physical cheating, breakup, and even divorce.

The later study was conducted by Russell Clayton, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, who surveyed 581 Twitter users and examined its effects on their relationships.
"Based on the ļ¬ndings from both studies, Twitter and Facebook use can have damaging effects on romantic relationships," Clayton concluded. "That is, when SNS [social networking site] use becomes problematic in one’s romantic relationship, risk of negative relationship outcomes may follow."

These types of relationships issues seemed to occur in both long-standing and less committed connections, said Clayton, and he advised that, to avoid this type of conflict, couples could operate shared social media accounts or simply cut back on usage.

So, technology in the form of social media can adversely affect our adult relationships, but what of its effects on our children?

Todays's youngsters have grown up in a world where technology rules, but its effects on them receive mixed reviews from scientists.
Larry Rosen is a research psychologist and computer educator who has evaluated both the positive and negative effects of technology on the young, and has concluded that innovations such as social media are developmental aids for what he has labelled the “iGeneration.”

“Social networking is really helping them with who they are, their identity in the world,” commented Rosen, who is the author of Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn. He goes on to say that virtual existences allow young people to test out different forms of sexuality and other lifestyle choices via their web identities, testing the waters without actually having to perform the practices in real life.

Despite his enthusiasm for the potentials of the cyberworld in modern childhoods, Rosen still offers a word of caution:

"Many parents believe they’re doing a great job raising their child if he is quietly playing video games in his room all day. That child will lose communication skills," he said. Technology must be “chosen correctly.”

Cris Rowan, the author of Virtual Child: The Terrifying Truth About What Technology is Doing to Children, has a far less positive perspective on the issue, labelling it bleak — and irreversible.

“I used to say to parents, ‘Look, it’s reversible. Just cut your kid [off] and they’ll be OK,’” said Rowan. “But that’s not true. They’re permanently altering the formation of their brain, and it’s not in a good way.” When asked how she foresaw the future for children if they continued the level of usage seen today, Rowan responded:
“I see them dying.”

A 2009 Kaiser study of kids aged 8-18 determined that they are engaging with digital media for an average of 7.5 hours per day.

Rowan adds, “There is absolutely nothing in technology that is developmentally healthy. Any time spent in front of a device or with a device is detrimental to child development.”

In fact, Rowan cites research by Dr. Gary Small, Director of the UCLA Memory and Aging Research Center, which suggests that our children's brains, specifically the frontal lobe, are actually forming differently due to technology exposure.

“As young malleable brains develop shortcuts to access information, these shortcuts represent new neural pathways being laid down,” writes Small in his book iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind.

The search continues to provide convincing evidence that radio wave exposures from mobile phones affect health, particularly on children's developing brains. Thousands of UK schoolchildren are being recruited for the world's largest study on the impact of mobile phones on children's health. The Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones, or SCAMP, will focus on areas such as memory and attention span, and will assess 2,500 11 and 12-year-olds over a three year period. It will examine whether mobiles and other wireless devices affect children's cognitive functions, such as their ability to make decisions and process information.

The principal investigator for the study, Dr Mireille Toledano, told Sky News: "These cognitive functions are continuing to develop (in these schoolchildren) which are so essential to our everyday life - to their ability to read, their basic skills in maths, intelligence and educational achievement.

"It is absolutely essential - and the most responsible thing for us to do when mobile phone usage is so widespread in our children (is) to be able to provide evidence to reassure the public, hopefully, that there are no adverse effects."

Health issues aside, our children's ability to think and act for themselves is also being severely impeded by phone and computer use, claims psychologist Timothy Wilson, who has observed that college students start going “crazy” after just a few minutes in a room without their phones or a computer. “One would think we could spend the time mentally entertaining ourselves,” he said. “But we can’t. We’ve forgotten how.”

Due to their legacies of complex structures, it would appear that ancient civilisations also possessed advanced technologies, the extent and nature of which are now only the stuff of hypothesis. Some of the great leaps in technology seen here on earth, both historically and in recent years, have been attributed to extra-terrestrial interventions; if this is true, their true purpose for doing so is not yet evident, but it may explain why technologies have evolved so quickly and why we have embraced them so passionately. Has their rapid introduction created a novelty value, whose freshness has captured the imagination and attention of our whole species?

Not just our own species either: even our dogs and cats can now be seen avidly watching television programmes, according to Ernst Otto Ropstad, an associate professor at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science.

“Now that modern TVs generate more frames per second, dogs can perceive the pictures as film, just like we do,” said Ropstad, who specialises in animal vision.“They probably see the new TVs just as well as they see the world in general.”

The potential of this has not gone unrecognised in the USA, where hopeful TV producers have started special TV channels for dogs.

So, the world is ruled by technology which pervades every area of our lives, and is self-exacerbating, with nearly every commercial, ad, and promotion on tv and online encouraging us to buy the latest gadget, or upgrade to the latest new thing.

Lee Siegel sums up: "We shop, work, play, love, search for information, seek to communicate with each other and sometimes with the world online. We spend more time online than ever before. Yet people are not arguing about this startling new condition."

Perhaps, in future years, the novelty will wear off for us all and the balance will be restored. This effect may already be happening in communities with a strong sense of cultural identity:

”When the Internet first came out, there was less interest in traditional knowledge,” says Qappik Attagutsiak, the oldest person in the Inuit village of Arctic Bay. ”But now that the Internet has been around for some time, people are starting to get back to learning traditional ways. It's starting to balance.” She laughs when asked if she's tried surfing the Web. ”I use my brain as a computer. That's enough.”

How do you feel about the ingress of technology into our lives? You would not be reading this site without it, but what else would you be doing? Has the internet or other forms of technology enhanced your life, or affected it negatively? Have we too readily embraced technology, seeking only the benefits, and ignoring the many, rapidly unfolding pitfalls? Surely retreating into our virtual worlds prevents us from the essential exchange of energy that occurs when we experience face-to-face inter-personal contact?
Has life somehow become less "real?"

Share your thoughts and views here with us at Unknown Country, arguably one of the best uses of technology on the web!
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I think technology is moving faster than we have psychological and spiritual tools to deal with it. Factor in that many people are feeling less and less connected to God, and we end up with a society that is beginning to worship its own technology. I was just thinking the other day how we no longer can give anyone our "full and undivided attention." That phrase has gone with the wind! Now, during any social meeting of two or more people, all sorts of smart phones and or cell phones start making a menagerie of strange sounds or playing various clips of music. The phrase "I'm sorry I have to take this," is now repeated over and over throughout the day. Recently, I went to the symphony, and before the orchestra began playing, instead of the usual buzz of conversation that one usually hears in a concert hall before a concert, there was the most eerie and disconcerting silence, as almost everyone (even though they were sitting with friends and loved ones) preferred to be online, texting and making phone calls, than to engage with the person sitting next to them in conversation! I have already personally experienced special social occasions ruined by the inopportune sounds of a smartphone ringing. I think everyone who reads this has experienced competing for someone's attention, as you sit there while they decide which is more important: to continue talking with you, or to accept the incoming call, text, message, whatever. It's humiliating. At a time when more than ever we need love and we need to connect with other human beings in the flesh, we are already living in a virtual reality.

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