Smartphones, computers and other digital devices have become a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives. Internet access is available 24/7 seemingly everywhere we go. And digital content is available on-demand, anytime, anywhere, at just the press of a button. But is all this technology empowering us, or is it just addicting us?
It’s hard not to see the massive proliferation of knowledge and the access to information as a positive, empowering force. Everyday, we have more computing power available in our smartphones than the Apollo astronauts did when they were going to the moon. Think about how this information empowers us on a daily basis – we can instantly check the weather, find out the latest news, and communicate with loved ones located thousands of miles away – all before we start the work day.
Then, throughout the workday, we are relentlessly plugged into the vast “hive mind” of the Internet, giving us access to just about any piece of information, instantaneously. We can check packages in real-time, communicate with anyone (for free!) in any nation of the world, and be able to look up any detail, any fact, or any bit of trivia using sophisticated search engines.
Then, when we get back home, we have access to a tremendous treasure trove of entertainment content. Tens of thousands of movies and TV shows, all available instantly, for just a few bucks. Instead of communicating with people just in the local neighborhood, we now have communication access to any person, anywhere in the world. And it’s all affordable, easy to access and available 24/7. That’s tremendously empowering.
The critics, though, will charge that all this technology is just making us stupid, changing how our brains function and making us asocial, not social. They will claim that “information” has just become a huge “data torrent,” in which it’s impossible to make sense of anything anymore. They will claim that spending hours of free time watching TV or playing video games is making us stupid and taking away our collective power of reasoning and rational thought.
And, most damaging, critics will claim that Internet addiction is one of the most insidious influences in modern, digital society. The average Netflix subscriber now watches 8 hours of content per day. 50 percent of smartphone users look at their phones at least once every hour, in search of that next dopamine boost. And the average Internet user spends more than 20 hours online a week. In short, we are starting to spend as much time watching viral cat videos online as we are in the modern workplace. That’s a troubling sign of addiction, to be sure.
But modern digital technology is just like any other technology that has relentlessly pushed humanity forward – it has its pros and cons. From the printing press to the first railroad, there have always been murmurs of dissent that technology was somehow destroying traditional society.
A more accurate picture, though, is that technology is tremendously empowering. It is creating new industries, disrupting old ones, and making everyone smarter and more connected. We are now consuming more information weekly than the ancient civilizations consumed in an entire lifetime. The more that society embraces technology, the more it will empower its citizens to learn more, do more and achieve more.