What do you value most? Where do you spend most of your time? If your answers to these questions aren’t the same, then something is wrong, according to Jennifer MacGregor, who spoke on Wednesday on our addiction to modern technology in her lecture entitled “I Text, Therefore I Am: The Computer-Mediated Identity”.
MacGregor said, “Cell phones and technology are not dangerous in itself, but certain human propensities interact with characteristic features of cell phones and Internet spaces in ways that threaten to undermine what it means to be human.” She said our generation uses technology like cell phones, Facebook, Stumbleupon, and even online games like Second Life, which allows users to create an avatar and interact with real players around the world, to help us deal with boredom, awkward social situations, and insecurities regarding personal identity.
MacGregor described studies that show that every time you get an email, a text message, or a Facebook notification, your brain receives a shot of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that sends signals of happiness and pleasure to the brain. This could explain why, according to her survey in 2010, 40-45% of students are on Facebook during class. Or the fact that one-third of students will text or talk on the phone even while they are with a group of friends. These behaviors reflect our brains’ physical response to online media as well as our desire to stay connected and assure ourselves that we exist in the online world.
During her 2010 FYS at SLU, MacGregor asked her students to confront their dependence on technology and the underlying needs of this dependence by “unplugging”. Her students took a 12-day break from all technology (except what they needed to complete schoolwork) and discovered that their lives were intertwined with social networking sites like Facebook and portable technology like cell phones.
These “digital natives” were forced to unplug and enter a new culture devoid of technology, thereby reflecting on their online identity. At first, students felt anxious about missing out on social events and information like the news and other media.
This anxiousness makes sense in the light of current psychological studies on FOMO, the fear of missing out. Our dependence on sites that grant instant information and status updates only agitates our fear of missing out on this continuous flow of information.
Students also felt irritated by their inability to access new information instantly. Many of MacGregor’s students struggled to adjust of life without the conveniences of modern technology. One student asked whether looking up a word is really worth the walk to the library when you could just use Google or Dictionary.com.
MacGregor concludes that interacting with online simulations of people, even if they are the profile of friends of Facebook or Twitter, is no substitute for the real people in our lives. Her last remark hit home with the audience when she asked, “Who are you not with when you are on Facebook?”