I recently finished reading Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. It’s a biography that covers the life of George Washington in great detail, from his adolescent upbringing to the revolutionary war, to presidency, all the way to death. At 928 pages, you learn a great amount of what a typical life was like during this time.
There was much pain, and anguish – many individuals died young, most diseases were incurable, and without the advancement of technology – life was simply harder.
There is one aspect that intrigued me, however. Many of these individuals during this time period of limited tech were able to accomplish feats that the normal human today typically does not. Some examples include individuals becoming notable land surveyors at 17 years of age, going on lone adventures with nothing but a horse and limited supplies, and starting a literal revolution from a government they no longer saw fit. Why am I fascinated by this? Because there are not many individuals who would be willing or able to accomplish feats such as these in today’s day and age, even with more advanced tools at our arsenal. The average 17-year-old today would be far more interested in a Fortnite accomplishment than a real world one.
Now you may be thinking, “why do you expect, or even want people to do these things?” That’s simply not the point – it’s about the ability and interest to get complex tasks done with substantially limited technology compared to what we have today; without checking your cellphone every 5 minutes and with pure, uninterrupted focus.
Technology has expanded very quickly. In between 1970 to 2021 we have seen some of the largest “booms.” Internet, Personal Computers, Smartphones, Gaming Systems, AI, just to name a few.
In the year 2000, 7% of humans around the globe were online. Compare that to today, where 83% of humans own a smartphone.
In 2004 there were less than 1 million users on MySpace, one of the first social media sites before Facebook. Today, Facebook alone has more than 2.26 billion users with other sites having thousands and millions of users.
200 years ago, we were writing letters by hand, and 200 years before that, we were doing the same. 1000 years before that – the same, letters by hand. And now in the last 20 years, you can talk to a loved one across a computer screen in real time. You could say things have grown pretty quickly.
I think this overall advancement of technology is a wonderful phenomenon – we are able to perform complex surgeries, travel thousands of miles away in a matter of hours and connect with loved ones on the opposite side of the planet – but I also believe we’ve become reliant on tech instead of our actual brains, and it has dampened our interest & capabilities in the real world. Humans would rather watch a tv show about a specific activity, than actually doing said activity. How many times do you ponder on an answer to a question, instead of instantly pulling out your smartphone to google it? Does this have repercussions on our critical thinking?
It has been shown that too much screen time impacts the brain negatively, especially in children – impaired emotional & social intelligence, social isolation, addiction to technology, and impaired brain development, just to name a few. Problem solving and critical thinking, in turn, are diminishing. You say you don’t use technology extensively? Check your screen time on your smartphone, you may just be surprised. At just two hours a day, negative effects can grow.
The 2010s marked the rise in depression, anxiety and other mood disorders amongst adolescents. In 2010, 5% of college females reported having a psychological disorder. That number increased to 15% in 2016. For males, the number was a little below 3% in 2010, up to 6% in 2016. Social media platforms boomed right before 2010 and continued growing, with the invention of Tumblr in 2007, Twitter in 2006, Instagram in 2010, and Snapchat in 2011. Now a lot more data is needed to truly understand what is causing these rises in mood disorders, but the advancement of social media platforms coupled with the data we already know about extensive screen time, is quite telling.
I’m not an extremist who believes we should “revert back to the old days” and shun technology. Technology is incredibly important – it saves time, energy, resources, and not to mention, lives. We instead need to learn self-control when it comes to our many devices.
We should be able to hand write a paragraph without using spellcheck or go a whole day without checking our notifications.
Social media should be something you limit, not something you go on for 8 hours a day.
We should have the ability to brainstorm ideas on a complicated task with fellow companions, without immediately reverting to the trusty search engines in our pockets.
But the average person today will struggle with the above immensely.
As Technology continues to grow and expand to levels we can’t even begin to fathom, my biggest hope is that we learn how to discipline ourselves. Our futures, children, and well-being depend on this discipline and self-control. Or we will become immensely consumed with tech to the point of no return, lacking the ability to problem solve and remain sane, a luxury that our ancestors once had.
Stay rooted, my friends!
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Chapter 7: Anxiety and Depression. The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt
One response to “Have we forgotten how to function without technology?”
[…] anything we do nowadays is done with a screen of some sort. I’ve talked extensively in my article here on our heavy reliance on technology and the negative effects it can have. This is especially true […]