We have an ongoing debate in our house about how digital our world is becoming and whether our increasing digitization is a benefit or a curse. You’ve also likely seen studies about how use of mobile devices is causing us to become disengaged from one-on-one interactions, how 66 percent of people suffer from nomophobia (fear of being without a cell phone), or how “face time” is now better known as an iPhone app than a tangible experience.
As a high school English literature teacher, my husband is very much in the camp of those who are concerned about the potential detriments of digitization. It’s often hard enough to get students to put down their cell phones during one class, much less to get them to read an entire book. And, these trends don’t just start in high school—there are three and four year olds out there who could teach me a few things about iPhones and iPads! While there is no wrong or right answer, this trend has caused many to question the impact that this world of instant gratification and constant connectedness will have on the attention spans of future generations.
As a member of the publishing industry—and a company that is currently forging its way into the digital frontier by way of ebooks, apps, and downloadable everything—and a wife who always loves a good debate, I can’t help but think of all of the benefits that digitization has afforded us. I’m not saying that I disagree with the negative aspects of technology addiction, mind you, but I do believe that the digital world has afforded some profound and unparalleled opportunities that simply cannot be ignored.
For instance, many organizations, such as Now Clinic, allow people to connect with physicians and other medical professionals through the internet and outside of traditional business hours. The National Voices Project has similarly been exploring ways to provide mental health services via Skype to those who would otherwise be unable to access such resources. On a personal level, we’ve been able to remain in constant contact with family and friends all over the world—and we’ve seen their children grow between visits. We’ve partaken in talks and concerts and festivals from across the globe. We’ve accessed mindfulness practices and meditation bells directly from our iPhone apps. We’ve engaged with the teachings of spiritual teachers far and wide (try it for yourself and watch our free Refreshing Our Hearts live stream with Thich Nhat Hanh on 10/26).
Finally, as someone who is currently learning to speak Portuguese, technology has unlocked an invaluable world of tools and resources. I take lessons via Skype from a woman in Lisbon, have an iPhone app that acts as a deck of flashcards (complete with proper pronunciation!), I stream Portuguese radio throughout the day, and there are online communities like The Mixxer designed specifically for people who want to practice speaking new languages with one another via the internet—none of which would exist without the digital world.
The bottom line is that things are always evolving. In fact, change is one of the only constants in our lives, so why not embrace this new frontier with an open heart? It comes to this: Can we be grateful for it as well as cautious of it?
So, what is your opinion? And, how does technology act as a benefit or a burden in your own life?