BEUSCHEL: Is technology taking control of our lives?

Oct 18, 2012


People were out sleeping on the sidewalks, lined up days ahead of time anxiously waiting to be one of the first owners of the newest cell phone on the market. There were tents, sleeping bags, chairs, people bringing in food and coffee to the weary. 

Really? The price on these phones made me wonder how people who had the time to sit in line for days could afford to buy it?

About the same time Apple was releasing its new iPhone, CBS covered a research project on cell phone usage. The study claimed that we humans are natural gathers of data. We check the weather, look at our gas gauges, check our bank balances, look at how much food is in our refrigerators — you get the idea. We survive on our ability to gather data, interpret it and then apply it to what we need to do to survive. We’re just modern-day mountain men!

Well, this study found that the speed at which data is available has led to people compulsively checking their cell phones, creating increased distraction and emotional dependency on these devices.

As part of the study, people from all over the world agreed to not use their cell phones for 24 hours. A few hours into the study, people were dropping out of the study like the proverbial flies. They could not live without being connected!  People claimed they were depressed, isolated, nervous and unable to concentrate just because they could not use their cell phones.

In addition, the study put forth the fact that our over-use of cell phones/technology crowds out the time we once had for quiet introspection and calm contemplation. Today’s technology travels with us 24/7. It imposes itself on our whole day.

The researchers looked back to the beginning of screen technology and the development of the TV — claiming that the TV was an isolated, single-use piece of technology. When people got in their car or went to work, the TV did not travel with them. Stations were limited, there wasn’t instant worldwide coverage, and you had to actually get up to turn the channel. There were even times of the day that there was no TV coverage — imagine that!

But now — using the various handheld devices with screens — we are able to use a phone, camera, video recorder, GPS and the Internet almost every place we go. At the same time studies like this are challenging the demise of our calm, contemplative, introspective daily time, other studies are hailing the increased benefits that technology can bring to us.  

One benefit that has been found is that use of technology increases brain activity, compared to the brain reading a book. The application of this finding is the use of technology by seniors to improve their brain functioning as a hedge against aging and mental decline. 

Educators are finding many applications for technology in the classroom. They can expand resources beyond the typical textbook applications. Many students come to kindergarten already familiar with technology. For some students, the pace of the classroom is enhanced with the use of technology. Reluctant readers become excited by the audio books they use independently to boost their fluency, work recognition and comprehension.

The sheer ease with which data can be located is a blessing in applications involving research. Game playing on the Internet can sharpen response times. Skyping can bring people who are literally a world apart together for a visit. Writing flows with the use of spellcheck. Photos can be edited. Videos can be shared on YouTube. Driving instructions can be found to get from here to there.

So what’s not to like about technology?

Well, for starters, we have lost our manners. It used to be considered rude to not pay attention to a person you were eating with at a restaurant. Have you ever noticed entire families sitting around the restaurant table, each with his or her own electronic device, frantically typing away on it or chatting or game playing? No one is talking to each other! Do they know how to anymore?

Secondly, there’s all kinds of hype about toddlers playing with eBooks. Using good old-fashioned books teaches children dexterity as they open the book and turn the pages. Having someone read to them gives them the opportunity to watch the reader’s mouth to learn how sounds are made.

But most of all, children are made readers on the laps of their parents! Personal contact while reading transfers the pleasure of being held into the pleasure of reading a book.

Next, Facebook and other social-networking sites have broken down our personal boundaries. Why do we need 750 friends? What happened to calling and actually talking, voice to voice? Inflection tells a lot about what a person’s words mean, along with their facial expressions if you are lucky enough to be talking face to face.

The lines between our public and private lives are being blurred. Who do we “friend” and what impact does that have on our lives? Jobs have been lost, reputations damaged, friendships ended, suspensions made all because social network users don’t know where they begin and end in cyberspace.

We have a dilemma on our hands. Are we in charge of technology or is it in charge of us?

Janice R. Beuschel can be contacted at her website,



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