Does Online Time Interfere with Family Time?
Upon researching the subject of how our reliance (and obsession) with technology affects our family and personal relationships (not to mention our existing attention span), I read through the relevant source material (New York Times articles and polls), did some supplemental research (scanned approximately 8 to 12 pages and online reports), checked the weather on my iPhone, answered a text, called my wife, updated some software, answered a few emails, took a bathroom break, and returned 3 or 4 times to the New York Times article (just in case I missed something) all in the course of 30 minutes. From my perspective, it has been a fairly calm morning and semi-productive. However, according to a recent New York Times report, scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information, and that these bursts of information create a rhythm that we become quickly addicted to, and have a tendency to undermine relationships with family and loved ones.
At home in America, people consume 12 hours of media a day on average. That compares with five hours in 1960, say researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Computer users visit an average of 40 web sites a day, according to research by RescueTime, and in 2008 (according to more information reported in the New York Times), people consumed three times as much information each day as they did in 1960. No doubt this stimulation provides a certain form of excitement and engagement, but when removed from this stimuli, are we just simply bored, making daily interaction with loved ones seem under-stimulating?
With the popularity of mobile devices (like smart phones and iPhones) we have become a culture that literally cannot separate from the stream of information, entertainment and stimulation. Go out to dinner, to a movie, or to any event, and you will see a family together, but not together. Likely everyone will be pounding away at their personal mobile device and possibly communicating with friends and contacts who rarely are granted genuine face time even when they are in close proximity.
I am not lamenting our current state of technological convenience, nor am I championing a new Luddite order. I for one am ceaselessly amazed by the depth and breadth of our contemporary technological status (I am inseparable from my iPhone) and know full well that going back to simpler times is neither practical nor probable. In my mind, the technology is fantastic, it is how we are integrating it into our lives that is problematic. Instead of lapping at the fountain of information and connectivity, we are sucking on the fire hose hoping for engagement and enlightenment.
Do you think technology interferes with, or enhances our daily lives? Have we grown too dependent on internet connectivity and mobile devices (e.g. Does anyone know how to navigate with a folded paper map?) at the cost of authentic human and natural experience? Is the family the victim here? Or are the connectivity, social networking, and communication tools so wondrous that they override our petty human exploitations?