The modern digital technologies that we use are potentially and in actuality so pervasive in their effects, that it is therefore easier to unravel some of the strings of implications for our, and future generations, by considering their effects upon the different levels of our being.
So far we have examined, in a very cursory way, how they affect us physically. In terms of our emotions these effects may be more subtle, more difficult to label, but nevertheless, in their way, just as pervasive and profound. As time goes by we will be able to gauge much more accurately just how these technologies are changing our way of living for better and for worse.
In a general sense our emotional responses take us into the realm of human moods, behaviours and reactions. These can be likened to the ever shifting sands of hope and fear that push and pull us into endless cycles of fluctuation and change. How we place ourselves within the world as functioning human beings is often reflected by the way that we connect and interact with one another and the world wide web is all about connections and inter-connected-ness.
No one can deny that in one sense, this has bought us all much closer together. We can connect instantaneously, we can interact easily, almost effortlessly, cheaply and from just about anywhere on the planet. Never before has our Earth appeared to be such a small place. Suddenly we find ourselves inside the solar system and less intensely focused on the small family, tribal and communal groups that were always so pivotal to our sense of place and belonging within human societies of the past. These are still very much present but now put into a context and within a much bigger world view.
If anything can reveal interconnectedness clearly, it would have to be the technologies and social media tools that are available today. At the heart of this connectedness is the incessant tug of war between hope and fear. These underlying forces drive most of our emotional interactions and are often bound to be magnified in the cyber realities that we create online. Our emotions may be fleeting but they are nevertheless powerful and compelling. Are we not constantly driven by them in one form or another?
Think about it. Our need to belong, our need to excel, our need to be liked, our need to feel important, etcetera. Often at the very inception of an idea, before it is put into actuality it is motivated, consciously or otherwise, by some very visceral emotion. Facebook was virtually built out of one man’s desire to impress a girl. We have played into this instinctive need. Facebook and other social media networks have flourished and spread around the world fuelled by our almost obsessive need to be connected with one another. To make our little splash in the vast pond of existence. To reassert our existence as independent and yet interconnected beings and all of this on a much grander scale than ordinary people like you and I may ever have dreamed possible in the past. In these times, the ubiquitous Like button, the instant tweet and the flurry of other communication tools that have become part of the very fabric of modern human communication offer us immediate gratification adding fuel to an illusive and inflated sense of importance or its opposite.
Cyber technologies and social media have enormous potential for reaching out in a way that previously was never possible, but there is also a shadow side. They give us a degree of on-line anonymity that makes it easy to enter into relationships in which our normal responses and responsibilities can be evaded. What might this mean to the younger generation who are being brought up within this kind of environment? The normal responses of the past, which take place on a day to day level between people in their living and work environments are being affected the trend towards working at home. New incentives are beginning to rise up in order to combat the isolation that this can cause. Open offices are beginning to emerge and people are finding ways to still work and yet be with one another in a physical space.
The mercurial pace with which an online moods or trends can take hold and then be forgotten, is such that it can be difficult to keep apace. Such trending gives us a taste of the ephemeral nature of our emotions and along with that a sense that everything is speeding up.
Is there an emerging paradox in this trend? While we may appear to more connected, in actuality we seem to be more disconnected than ever. The nature of our communications is instantaneous but also in many cases very superficial and fleeting. These interactions often lack the vital exchange of energy that can take place between people within eye contact and actual physical presence. This is giving rise to a whole new language. The signals which, in the past, formed the basis of our interactions and our ability to interpret what others are conveying to our senses, both consciously and unconsciously can easily be misinterpreted and lead to confusion and misunderstandings which in turn can increase the sense of isolation in the current media environment.
For those of us who have been around for more than a few decades, the magnitude of these changes can be somewhat daunting. We now see ourselves beginning to function in ways that we did not function in the past and the younger generations are growing up with very different expectations and agendas. The whole basis, upon which this evolution is developing, is of a very non substantial kind. Our philosophical tomes have stated over and over that our world is an illusion, and with the new technologies and all that they stand for we can begin to sense very clearly how true this really is.
Digital technology has provided us with new toys and tools with which to interact with the world on a scale that heretofore has simply not been possible. What are some of the characteristics of our reactions to these technologies in terms of how they affect us on an emotional level?
1. Compulsiveness. We can see this manifesting as a fidgety preoccupation with almost constant distraction. It’s become a common sight to see people in all sorts of environments busily multi tasking. Here in India, it is not unusual to see people on their way to where ever, on a cycle, a motor bike or in a car, texting or talking on a mobile phone. Have we not all seen people gathered waiting for something, or sitting at tables together, all busily engaged with something happening on their phones or computers in the very midst of the throngs of humanity.
2. Connected and yet disconnected. I recently visited friends who have a number of children. Everyone, parents included, was gathered in the living room together but the room was silent, each was busily engaged in some kind of cyber activity on their iPad, phone or PC.
3. Dissipation. The energies favour dissipation. The attention and emotional indicators experience an incessant pressure that draws one outwardly from the natural centre of silence and peace. This then gives rise to a growing inner sense of loss and isolation.
It is a paradox that the very tools that were supposedly created to bring us nearer to one another are in fact isolating us from one another in many subtle ways. It’s a little as though we are cast out to sea, surrounded by the ocean and yet all this water is incapable of quenching our thirst. We can get sucked into a cycle with digital technologies which can lead to some very unhealthy side effects unless we become more aware and make practical and discriminating judgements and then actually implement them.
Cartoon by Randy Glasbergen, USA.
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