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Digital Communication: Pain or Blessing?

Digital Communication: Pain or Blessing?

Ever heard of a “text thumb” or a “Blackberry-neck”? Doctors report that more and more people are complaining about pain in their backs, shoulders, arms and hands. The ongoing surge of handheld technology, like smart phones, laptops, video games and music players, is leading to a new wave of aches and pains. “The latest technology is great, but it is also a literal pain in the neck,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Here I am typing these lines on a laptop, but I cannot say that I am surprised by the findings of this report. All day you see people around you who frantically work their small handheld machines in more often uncomfortable positions. Nowadays digital devices dictate most lives.

The story in the Chronicle made me think about a book I read recently. In The Tyranny of E-mail, the author John Freeman makes the obvious point that most of us are too busy sending emails, tweeting or updating our Facebook pages that we never really meet people. We hardly make real connections, not with each other, not with nature around us. And I’m sure that’s not good for our souls. We need to belong. We need real friends.

There is a lot to be said in favor of Freeman’s suggestion to substantially cut back on our use of computers and digital communication in favor of real meetings, real conversations or real walks: Picking up the phone instead of sending another email, sending a real post card with a stamp instead of a digital one. Don’t you like receiving a handwritten letter amidst the invoices and direct mail that clutters your mailbox nowadays?

After reading Freeman’s book I was criticizing my own habits and contemplating a fresh start of the year with a more disciplined use of digital media. Right at the same time Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake. I followed the terrible news on my computer as I’m sure most of us did. At first there were no communications with the largely destroyed Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. And then soldiers were able to re-establish the cell phone network. Suddenly from under the rubble survivors could turn on their phones and let the world know where they were, using the very systems like Twitter that I had started to think we could very well do without.

Lives were saved because of modern digital media. Sights like Haiti.com based on innovative software especially designed for similar purposes in Kenya began to provide the essential connections that real life could no longer provide. The stories brought tears to my eyes and made me, once more, see that there is really no simple good and bad as it comes to the good things of the past and the modern innovations of today. Digital communication and handheld devices are not bad as such. It is our challenge to embrace them in such a way that we honor the good things of the past. I’m sure that that would cure quite a few “text thumbs” and “Blackberry necks.”

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Jurriaan Kamp

The Intelligent Optimist is a community centered around a magazine, a website and online events and courses. We focus on the people, passion and possibilities changing our world for the better.

78 comments

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12:24AM PDT on May 21, 2013

I'm also visiting this site regularly, this web site is really nice and the users are genuinely sharing good thoughts.
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3:20PM PST on Feb 25, 2011

thanks for the article. true.

5:33AM PDT on Oct 12, 2010

Thanks for the article.

4:02PM PDT on Jul 21, 2010

"Guys, please note wireless technology has many hazards (including type 3 diabetes) " - now thats a scary thing. In my office almost everything is wireless... Anyway, wouldn't like for my kids to live in such a technilogized world. It's almost inhuman. And btw, i love kids spelling games

12:00PM PDT on Jul 3, 2010

Jurian : Really enjoyed the mag ODE! I agree with you!

11:02AM PDT on Jun 2, 2010

Guys, please note wireless technology has many hazards (including type 3 diabetes)

This Canadian female professor describes in a short video:

http://www.magdahavas.com/2010/03/22/diabetes-and-electrosensitivity/

8:46AM PDT on May 1, 2010

New technology is good for urgent communication. However there is a consideration of how much time am I going to spend on these things. It should be an equal balance on every area in our lives.

5:14PM PDT on Apr 27, 2010

yeah..it's true...but i cannot live without them..i will go on trips without them andspend timewith nature and i will limit myself to how long i can use them each day...sand if i go over..i willl take away time from the other orms that i was planning on using that day!

7:14PM PST on Mar 5, 2010

Like ANYTHING in the world, moderation is ALWAYS the key. Every thing that we use, eat, do, observe, have, etc. has trade-offs: benefits & costs.

I, personally, think that our entire planet (particularly the "West") needs to slow down a little. We go go go, way too fast, thinking that we always have to be "doing something productive." But research is beginning to PROVE (as we all know intuitively) that multitasking and rushing through life is DETRIMENTAL to our overall goals (no matter what they be).

I think it's amazing that we are so "connected." But real life connections, human to human, human to nature, nature to human, have suffered. Aren't these interactions where life really occurs anyway? Life is not worth living if it's done vicariously through a hi-def screen and mobile device.

These tools can (and do) make parts of life MUCH easier and faster than before. Conversely, they also complicate and clog our lives with subsequent effects that were not apparent before the widespread use of these tools. How many hours have you "lost" absorbed in meaningless internet surfing?

Point is: good & bad are a part of everything. Everything has the potential to provide a good or service. Yet at the same time, everything has the potential to cause a bad or disservice. Moderation is where it's at! Always!

7:08PM PST on Mar 3, 2010

We probably over-use the high-tech toys because they are new and a bit complicated and take up more time than we really wish they did.

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