Use technology to expand your horizons, not numb your mind

You have the power to choose how media affects you

To say that technology is ubiquitous across college campuses is an understatement. As ASU students, technology is integral to our education, social lives and even our ability to function as human beings. 

Although technology has made life easier in many ways, it has also created an onslaught of social complexities and added new layers to the way we experience reality.

I’m not here to tell you about how technology is turning us into mindless zombies — I think we’ve heard enough of that. Americans spend about one-fifth of their time online on social media, a number which is even higher among younger demographics. Social media is only becoming more prevalent in our lives, so instead of lamenting the issues it creates, we should learn how to harness it to make the most meaningful connections possible.

Let me outline a modern paradox: if I’m on my phone too much, the people I’m spending time with get mad because I’m not paying attention to them. If I put my phone down for too long, everyone else reproaches me for not responding to their messages or checking social media. 

As a result, we're left feeling like we can't win, assuming we have to decide between interacting with new people through social networks or further developing existing relationships.

During the first quarter of 2016, the average US adult spent more than 10.5 hours a day consuming media — over half of their day staring at a screen. The effects of technology are dual in nature: They can be positive or negative depending on specific circumstances. 

For example, technology has been shown to increase anxiety among college students, but it has also been used to provide necessary services to those suffering from mental illness. 

The conflicting information we receive about tech often makes its effects seem unclear and even paradoxical. We're frequently told that use of the Internet intensifies social isolation, but much evidence demonstrates the contrary — that the Internet actually increases sociability, civic engagement and the depth of relationships.

And though technology serves as a distraction, it’s also used widely as a tool for increasing productivity.

ASU sociology professor Dr. Lisa Whitaker said that because of the rapid rate at which technology is evolving, it’s difficult to predict the long-term implications for interpersonal relationships. However, as young people are increasingly bombarded with new and tempting forms of media, it ends up in the hands of the individual.

"It will be up to individuals to decide how (technology) affects their lives," Whitaker said. 

We continue to take for granted the infinite wealth of information we have at our disposal. It’s far too easy to get sucked into the shallow world of appearances on Snapchat and Instagram or to spend hours scrolling through an endless succession of misinformed opinions on Twitter and Facebook.

I have friends who no longer see the point in learning because they can just Google anything in a matter of seconds. Instead of expanding our minds through technology, we now employ it as an extension of our brains for retrieving information we should already know. 

As a result, we fail to appreciate the true value of knowledge in shaping an individual’s thoughts and actions. I’m passionate about learning because it empowers me to understand and influence the world around me in more significant ways. 

The key to using technology wisely is to ensure that a greater portion of your online time is not wasted, but productive in some way or another. This largely comes down to shifting your mindset.

It’s a matter of being conscious about the information you absorb — you can decide to subscribe to media that enriches your life and block out media that stagnates productivity or worsens your emotional state. 

You can still enjoy some mindless entertainment online while taking advantage of the intellectual privileges technology provides you. Read the news. Learn a new language. Watch some documentaries. Those Trump memes and animal videos can (occasionally) wait. It’s your choice to make.


Reach the columnist at brenley.markowitz@asu.edu or follow @brenleymarkow on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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