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How Do We Avoid Tech Interfering With Our Humanity?

Creator:
Published:
December 14, 2023
October 16, 2023
Read this article to find out more about the impact of technology on our lives and how to uphold the beauty of what makes us human.|Check out how to reduce screen time and learn to live in the moment with these five tips.|Read this article to find out more about the impact of technology on our lives and how to uphold the beauty of what makes us human.|Learn how "the medium is the message," a quote by philosopher Marshall McLuhan, reminds us to decrease our dependence on technology.

Throughout history, people have asked the question, what makes us human? Philosophers, scientists, and theologians have all tackled this question in different ways, and I won’t claim to have a new answer. But I have found that looking at humanity through the lens of technology — and the future we’re building towards with it — offers me new insights into the answer to that question.  

In its simplest form, a human is a person as distinguished from an animal or (in science fiction) an alien. However, being human is much more complicated than that. We are rational beings capable of understanding and making decisions, we have curiosity about the world around us and we have a wide variety of emotions that affect both of the former. In a spiritual sense, we are beings that live for one another when fully cooperating with the Lord through our free will. He did not want to make slaves or clones but instead, those who are in His likeness. Due to this, we are meant to be creators and not solely consumers of the things around us. 

The rise of technology

In the last two decades, technology has been a significant part of people’s lives. From the increase in household use of the World Wide Web to the unveiling of the iPhone in 2007, the world has been increasing its use of technology in daily life. Facebook changed the way we share information with friends and family, initiating the start of social media. 

Today, AI tools are capable of writing papers, creating realistic images, imitating people’s voices, and much more. Robot vacuums clean our houses for us. “Alexa” turns on our lights, sets reminders for us, and changes the temperature in the room with a simple voice command. We have increased people’s ability to talk with those on the other side of the world as well as enabled clearer communication for those who are nonverbal through keyboard or eye-scanning communication devices. 

Along with these benefits of advanced technology, there have also been drawbacks. Technology has pushed society towards more consumerism. Not only do we consume media through our phones and televisions, but we are also bombarded by advertisements in our social media feeds, encouraging us to buy more using an algorithm that pushes ads individually suited to our tastes and habits. 

Technology shapes our lives

Since the rise of social media and the widespread use of the internet, scientists have been interested in the effect of technology on the brains of both young and old individuals. One study found that most adults use the internet daily, and nearly one out of four report being online most of the time. The possible side effects of this extensive screen time include heightened attention-deficit symptoms, impaired emotional and social intelligence, technology addiction, social isolation, impaired brain development, and disrupted sleep. 

Anxiety and depression have been both positively and negatively affected by the use of technology. The use of telehealth has greatly improved access to mental health treatment all over the country. However, using technology has also been linked to higher odds of depression. One study found that “there were higher odds of developing depressive symptoms among people who spend > 6 hours per day on TV watching and computer use.” This is likely due to decreased time spent participating in meaningful activities or engaging in social experiences. 

Sleep is another area that is affected by use of screens specifically. We’ve likely all heard the dangers of blue light at night,  do we actually realize the implications of negative sleep and its effects on brain function? Poor sleep is related to many physiological changes in the brain including decreased functional connectivity and decreased grey matter These lead to cognitive dysfunction and impair memory and attention/executive functioning. 

Technology not only affects the physiology of humans but also our skills and learning. Initial research on technology and its effect on the workforce was cynical but recent studies have demonstrated a positive shift in that perspective. Recent research has shown that rather than eliminating jobs completely, automation is likely to replace individual tasks within an occupation. This creates the need for learning new skills in the workforce. It has also been found that technology adoption may not be feasible and displacement due to automation may not be immediate. If automation is a long process, that allows time for workers to learn new skills. 

Holding on to our humanity

With all these changes to technology in the world around us, how do we avoid it interfering with our true nature as humans? I have come up with four ideas to help us stay connected to what makes us human while living in our world of ever-evolving technology.

1. Remember that technology is a tool.

Many of us cannot imagine going a day without our smartphones or the internet. Relating back to the effects on the brain, technology has addictive tendencies. We have to remember that humans created all these advances, and we are in control of our use of them. All the different types of technology are tools — they were intended to make life easier and free up time to do other things. If we put them in their proper order, like anything in life, we may find ourselves in better control of tendencies.

2. Restrict time on screens.

We have so many screens in our lives: the TV, desktops, laptop computers, smart phones, tablets, smart watches, etc. As addressed before, these have a significant impact on our mental and physical health. The average American spends nearly half a day staring at a screen. Over the course of a year, this adds up to a significant amount. Restricting screen time may feel unusual at first but start out small. Instead of having your phone plugged in near your bed at night, charge it in the bathroom. Or decrease your screen time by five minutes every week until you get to a certain amount.

3. Develop hobbies that involve creating (rather than consuming).

Humans have a natural tendency to create (just look at all of our inventions, innovations, and artwork!). After reducing the number of hours spent on screens, try to find a new hobby that demonstrates this nature. This could be anything from gardening to crafting to singing to painting.

4. Make meaningful connections with other humans — sans technology.

We are made for community with one another, to help each other, and to enjoy life together. This account of the early apostles in Scripture reminds me of this: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes…” And yet today, even the simple act of eating together has been disrupted by technology. People sit at the same table, but with their phones out or watching television, and lose the opportunity to connect with one another. 

***

Both the positive and the negative influences of technology have an impact on what it is to be a human being. With so much information at our fingertips, it is easy to forget the rest of the world or even to stop experiencing reality altogether. Technology is going to keep evolving and we have a choice to make — rule our technology or allow it to rule us? 

Creators:
Erin Spruit
Published:
December 14, 2023
October 16, 2023
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