First world problems:
Who said we need a stack of unread books on our night stand, a pile of dirty laundry at the foot of our bed and a load of dirty dishes in our kitchen sink to remind us the horrors of living in the first world?
In developed countries like America, we might not have to worry about where our next meal will come from or whether our school will be bombed while we’re in class. Heck, for the majority of us, we don’t even have to worry about having no money, no opportunity and no hope.
But, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, since our physiological and safety worries are taken care of, all we’ve to worry about are:
having someone to love, leaving a legacy and finding inner peace.
What separates us from animals is our desire to belong, our desire to matter and to make an impact in the world. We do that by connecting, by communicating and showcasing the unique gifts we have to offer.
Add technology which has connectivity in its DNA and we are immediately intrigued. The promise of its potential to spread our message and share our ideas is vast. And that’s how we begin our relationship with technology, which has the power to disrupt as much as it has help us create and collaborate.
Wired and tired:
What we forget though is that while the allure of the online world is undeniable, it is not curated for our own needs. Like with the nature of a book, the internet is infinite and doesn’t have a last page.
This perpetuity means the internet is ubiquitous. The avalanche of information can be overwhelming, confusing and indecisive, especially, for us who’re seeking to cope from real life.
Offline, we become moody and irritable because real life is not stimulating enough. As a result, we’re developing digital fatigue. Add to it, the self inflicted problem of surpluses.
A problem of surpluses:
First, there’s the physical excesses of techno materialism that’s clouding our real needs as humans. Between too many choices, too many gadgets and too many toys at our disposal, we’re losing our essential core as humans. Americans are sitting on 33 billion dollars worth of unused tech and that’s taking space in our homes, hearts and causing cortisol spikes.
Next, there are the text and social media notifications, the apps to check out, the new videos on Youtube, the podcasts to listen to, the next levels to reach in games and inboxes clogged with email we never get to in a timely manner anyway.
Confusing digital cheers for connection:
We are living in times when technology has become a means for self expression. We are measuring our social currency in the number of likes and hearts our Instagram or Twitter posts receive. We are becoming masters of content generation and distribution, and our content curation skills are also on the rise. Cue, how many filters and retakes does that one perfect selfie get?
Can this ever be a path to inner peace? Will we find the solitude and silence it takes to find our purpose in life?
The virtual reality of relationships:
Relationships thrive online only when they are anchored in real life. Not the other way around. We are available constantly to our loved ones although we’re always communicating with them in isolation.
Even when we interact, our communication is becoming more and more linear. We equip ourselves with smileys and emojis and are more creative with our messages than ever before. But our messages have no tone, none of our intended emotion and our intended non verbal cues.
As a result of only exchanging verbal communication, our emotions are not perceived and processed correctly by the receiver. While we continue to communicate this way, we only engage our right brain which is logical and literal. We leave emotion behind, because our brains don’t see the need to read non verbal cues in a text message or a Facebook message.
In the name of civic engagement, we’re getting caught up in the stupidity of crowds than wait to catch up on the wisdom of your inner self. We don’t want to live in the present because its too predictable and boring. We’re banking on our real lives to be rescued by adopting the values of a virtual world.
Then there are social skills like empathy and conflict resolutions that are only learnt through physically interacting with others. Touch and sensory exchange is necessary for emotional and social development.
Self inflicted information anxiety:
Unlike real life that can be boring and monotonous, on the internet, even if you want nothing, you can always get something. When we are bored, lonely and feel like we’re unable to make a dent in the world like we want to, we seek to distract ourselves with the enjoyment and fun the virtual world promises. And that’s why we’re always gasping for fresh new air to cope.
And as Sapiens, a book by Yuval Noah Hariri suggests, our cognitive revolution happened 70,000 years ago to our hunter gatherer forefathers which changed the course of our history. Our brains haven’t evolved at a rate of how social media apps release their newest versions every few weeks. Simply put, our brains have not been primed for the technological revolution.
What can we do?
First, we must understand that we’re all running on Big Tech’s corporate agenda to promote its bottom line. We must learn to adopt a need based use rather than technology based use. Ask what we can do with technology, not what technology can do for us.
Learn to interface with the digital medium by bridging your technology knowhow gap. Make your online resources small. There’s so much content, you won’t be able to get through it in this lifetime anyway.
Call for action:
Lets ask ourselves, while we’re being present 24/7 for our technology, who else in our real life is missing our presence, our loving care and our undivided attention?
Instead of waiting for a day when we can finish consuming everything and start really living, can we command our presence starting right now? That will start when we get off our phones and actually help someone else who’s hurting more than us.