The Age of Technology: Blessing or Curse?
By Karen Gates
We live in the Technology Age. Just look around and you cannot help but see an electronic device in operation. I am old enough to remember when this was the subject of sci-fi movies. The brain was encased in fluid-filled glass hooked up to equipment that did all the functions necessary for life. The one thing it could not do was be human any longer. It has been a slow process getting to this point when you consider our existence here on Earth. The exact age of the existence of humans is up for debate since all current methods use unprovable philosophical assumptions. Man has been around a long time no matter how you count it. We’ve passed through many ages along the way. We have the Middle Ages in the 5th to 15th centuries. It was a time filled with barbaric battles, romantic castles, mystical practices, and it merged into the Renaissance or Age of Discovery. The Industrial Age came a little quicker, beginning in the mid-1700s. Automated or mechanically operated equipment soon replaced the tedious hand tools that required human effort. People began to use their brains more and their bodies less. Studies on the relationship between machine and man began to flourish and are still the subject matter of worldwide think tanks like the Center for Collective Intelligence, Google, and other AI (artificial intelligence)-based discussions. The long-term effect of our ever-increasing dependency upon electronics for existence remains to be seen. According to the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, social interaction and physical movement is proving to slow down the age-related decrease in cognitive thinking ability. This goes way beyond the onslaught of social media sites. It is the need for physical human connections that transfer life energy with a handshake, hug, or touch from another person. Facebook and Google are now using the personal information they collect to bombard you with ad campaigns targeted to your specifics. This adds up to mega dollars for them the more quickly you move from page to page or through the massive amount of available info. The extreme stimulation of the brain changes actual brain wave patterns, according to a study done in 2008 by Gary Small, who heads the UCLA Memory and Aging Research Center. His experiment compared experienced Web users to casual or inexperienced users. The research found very different patterns of brain activity between the two groups. The subjects with little experience showed activity in the language, memory, and visual centers of the brain, which is typical of people who are reading. The experienced Web surfers, on the other hand, had more activity in the decision-making areas at the front of the brain. Interestingly, after five consecutive days of Web surfing, the brain activity of the “inexperienced” group began to match the activity of the experienced Web users. Nicholas Carr, author of last July’s Atlantic cover story, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, believes the distracted nature of Web surfing is reducing our capacity for deep contemplation and reflection. He began developing his theory when he realized that, after years of online information gathering, he had trouble reading a book or a magazine. As he puts it, “I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory…. I’m not thinking the way I used to think.” Constant distraction, over-stimulation, and exaggerated sensory perception disrupts physical, spiritual, and mental flow. We become like Pavlov’s dog waiting for the “ping” that “rewards” us with the connection. The Web exists on the fine line between a blessing and a curse. Those who consider it a blessing will say any adverse effects are far outweighed by the benefits of having all that information available with a click of the keys rather than having to take the time to pour through multiple pages of dusty old books. The curse can be viewed in our lack of thinking for ourselves, the inability to consciously filter data, and adapting to the massive influences dumped into our brains in split-second speed. The final determination comes from what you value more: intellectual information or human interaction.