Is modern technology changing us for the worse?

The negative impact of smartphones, social media

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

I am hardly a Luddite. In fact, I’m fascinated by technology, and a large part of my career has been focused on technology in one way or another. As well as having been an IT recruiter, I’ve worked on many different technology projects in several different capacities.

In general, I’m a heavy user of the Internet and have had several people compliment me on my online research skills. I have also been blogging now for three years and was a fairly early adopter of Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.

So, while I am hardly a “techie,” I think it’s fairly safe to say I’m quite comfortable with technology and its uses and applications. Modern technology definitely has its uses and benefits, and I’m totally onboard with that.

But I’m actually more than a little concerned about the impact of technology on the world of work and society in general these days. Rather than using technology as a tool to their advantage, I fear many people have become slaves to their gadgets instead of the other way around.

I have met people who literally have a panic attack if their smartphone battery dies or if they forget their phones when they leave the house for ten minutes. I’ve also participated in important social engagements where people just couldn’t resist checking their smartphones, or they interrupted important conversations just because their phones buzzed with someone’s banal text or tweet about nothing.

By and large, those people weren’t captains of industry waiting for an important client e-mail or doctors on call to perform open heart surgery. This obsession with technology is so pervasive even small children aren’t immune.

The impact on children

Last summer, my seven year-old daughter took her friend with her to an amusement park. Believe it or not, her friend actually wanted to leave early so she could go home and play games on her iPod.

While electronic games are fun, how could anyone possibly prefer them to a day out with friends at an amusement park? While this is an extreme example, to me it’s indicative of the power modern technology has over people.

Children seem utterly captivated by electronics. For some reason, the glow of electronic screens seems to have an irresistible allure and an almost hypnotic effect on them.

There’s no question modern technology is at least partially to blame for alarming rates of childhood obesity in Western societies. I also believe kids could be losing out on the acquisition of certain skills by focusing too much on technology.

Obsession with 24/7 connectivity

We have become a society completely obsessed with being connected 24/7. It’s as if people have to know what everyone they know is doing at all times – right down to the most mundane details like what they had for lunch. And some people do use their smartphones as the proverbial “electronic leash” to monitor their loved ones’ every move.

I’ve never been interested in keeping tabs on people or knowing every detail about their lives. And although I have nothing to hide, I have no wish to share intimate details of my life with the rest of the world.

I became so hostile to social media taking over people’s lives that I basically took a hiatus from Facebook for about three years. While I didn’t have a problem with social media as a concept, it bothered me how so many people seemed to use it as a substitute for a real social life.

People seemed more interested in texting, tweeting and entering status updates on their phones than having real intimate connections with live human beings.

But I began to realize that social media is now so pervasive I was starting to lose out on opportunities for real social interaction. Like it or not, social media is so often the conduit for social events and meeting and reconnecting with people that those who don’t participate are frequently left out.

My attitude became, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Therefore, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to embrace social media in a much bigger way.

But technology overuse and abuse is still one of my pet peeves, both personally and in the workplace. Hopefully, at least a few people will read this post and remember the joys of occasionally being unplugged and interacting and socializing with real live human beings — without constantly being interrupted by technology.

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