Teresa Breen shares her story of the death of her son, JB. The following story is posted on the Texting and Driving Safety website:
"My son, John Breen – JB as we called him, thought he was invincible. He was 23, a United States Marine and he was about ready to deploy to Afghanistan. He was willing to sacrifice his life for our country. It wasn’t war that took JB from us. It wasn’t a bullet or a bomb. It was a text message sent on a little 2” x 4” box that ended his life on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. JB spent March 15, 2009 with his family in St. Francisville, IL, before deploying to Afghanistan. That night, while driving, JB was texting with a friend. He lost control of his vehicle and veered off the road. He was ejected from the vehicle and died from a massive skull fracture. JB left behind parents, a brother, and countless friends who all miss him terribly. But what hurts most, JB has a beautiful two-year-old little girl who will never fully understand what an amazing man her daddy was. JB knew better. In fact, not 24 hours before his crash his father warned him to “Put that phone down – it’s controlling your life.” Yet, he still chose to text while driving. And he/we paid the ultimate price. No parent should have to go through the pain that we went through and continue to go through each and every day."
Technology addiction has become a major problem in our society. This tragic death is just one example of the negative impact technology can have on consumers. Life on a screen and life as we've always known, up until the last decade and a half ago, have gotten terribly out of balance. We have not yet developed cultural conventions to help us best make use of emerging information technologies, nor do we know what they are doing to us when we rely on them. Humans cannot evolutionarily adapt at the pace technology is changing.
Thoreau says it best, “Men have become the tools of their tools.”. Technology is slowly taking control of society, and society seems to embrace it. Society fails to acknowledge the long-term destructive consequences and overall negative impact technology has on its’ users. The Association for Consumer Research features an article titled "Technology Addiction" which defines technology addiction as:
"A compulsive, unnecessary use of technology that interferes with the individual’s life, as well as his/her mental and/or physical well being. It is a psychological addiction to the cumulative experience one derives from one’s involvement with the technology. As a process addiction, technology addiction dulls and distorts the addicts’ reality allowing them to escape dealing with their true feelings and interfering with normal functioning and information processing. In their compulsive pursuit, tech addicts will neglect important aspects of their lives and will display symptoms of loneliness, depression, even isolation from friends and family. They will experience anxiety and withdrawal symptoms as well as craving when denied their habitual involvement with technology."
Smartphones are becoming increasingly useful. This increase in usefulness also has a tendency to increase reliance and reduce self-sufficiency. It’s not uncommon for a family to sit in complete silence at their dinner table because the kids, and the adults now, are absorbed in their phones. It has become acceptable to be more concerned about someone who isn’t even physically present than those who are in the same room as you.
Social networking is an outstanding tool for reconnecting with people you haven’t seen in a long time, for example. AsapSCIENCE found that even though it’s a “psychological addiction, as opposed to a substance addiction, brain scans of these people actually show a similar impairment of regions of the brain that those with drug dependents have.” They discovered that “because social media provides immediate rewards with very little effort required, your brain begins to re-wire itself making you desire these stimulations. And you begin to create more of this neurological excitement after each interaction. Sounds a little like a drug right?”
It is a common misconception that those who use social media heavily are better at multi-tasking than others. However, according to AsapSCIENCE, “increased multi-tasking online reduces your brains’ ability to filter out interferences and can even make it harder for your brain to commit information to memory.” They found that, “while 30-40% of face to face conversations involve communicating our own experiences, around 80% of social media communication is self-involved.”
Studies have shown that dopamine is released during the use of social media. Researchers looked at brain activity, with functional magnetic resonance imaging, of people who talked about themselves or talked about someone else. The “reward systems in the brain lit up significantly more when the participants talked about themselves.” It's no wonder social media has become so popular; it’s a free service that provides rewards to consumers’ brains with very little effort required.
Dr. Shannon M. Rauch says that social media is mainly used to entertain us when we’re bored or distract us from our current lives. She goes on to explain that the reason why so many people love posting status updates is because of reinforcements from comments and likes. Because of these reinforcements, it makes it difficult for a person to merely stop posting. Dr. Rauch also talks about how people on social media websites tend to create an unrealistic version of themselves, appearing as though they are flawless. This causes others to compare themselves and can be detrimental to their self-esteem.
Anxiety UK directed a survey in 2012 to see the effect social media has on emotions. “The survey found that 53% of participants said social media sites had changed their behavior, while 51% of these said the change had been negative.” The people who said the change was negative also stated that they had compared themselves to their friends and ultimately ended up feeling a decrease in self-esteem. The survey also discovered that two thirds of the participants had trouble sleeping or relaxing after using the social media. “55% said they felt "worried or uncomfortable" when they were unable to log onto their social media accounts.” Dr. Rauch doesn’t think that merely the use of social media “is out of control, but our need to be electronically connected at all times.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 90 percent of Americans regularly use a computer or electronic device of some kind in the hour before bed. Studies have also shown that using smartphones or tablets before bedtime can cause difficulty sleeping. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute showed that exposure to light from computer tablets significantly lowered levels of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone in the brain that controls the body’s sleep cycle.
Technology hinders kids’ social skills. Kids growing up are immersed in a world where smartphones and social media has always existed. It's a lot easier for kids to communicate online that it is in person; they simply aren't able to relate socially as well as kids of the past. It certainly doesn't help now that we're in the middle of a pandemic.
There are several negative impacts technology can have on children. Kids love surfing the web, texting, or playing video games. The issue is, however, that they become frustrated or annoyed when someone interrupts them from these activities. For example, when a mother asks her child to do some chores around the house, while the child is playing a video game, they will instantly become annoyed and frustrated with their mother. This type of behavior can destroy parent-child relationships.
The second negative impact is less patience, an inability to wait. I have experienced this multiple times. If a video takes more than five seconds to buffer, I get irritated. The world we live in has become so fast-paced, everyone is in a hurry, and wants everything now. The third negative impact is declining writing ability. Even as I’m typing this, I have relied on automatic spelling and grammar to fix any errors. The last negative impact is general lack of physical activity, which has obvious consequences.
Technology has completely changed the world as we know it. It has done very little to enhance our moral well-being, and may contribute to a decrease in morality as it increases apathy in heavy-users. The more "connected" online we become, the more disconnected we are around real people.
It's hard to stay present when a phone is in your hand. No one can truly multi-task. Spouses on their phones while talking to each other are not fully invested in the conversation. In my opinion, I'd rather someone be in a different room while they're talking to another person on their phones. It's more fulfilling to have someone who is mentally present and physically present, rather than no mental presence at all. It's better not to be in the same room while they're speaking to another person than in the same room while being ignored, because in my mind it's as if they're not there in the first place. It is so important that we spend quality time with the people around us, especially those that we love and care for, without our phones getting in the way. Remember when it was considered rude to leave the television on when speaking to other people? Now consider that it could also be a social and emotional health hazard.
I am by no means saying that the occasional use of social networks or cell phones is harmful. Technology itself is not the problem; those who use it obsessively are. The solution is simple: turn off your computer, put your phone away, and just be around people. We need to begin listening to our conversations again, not reading about them off a screen.