Technology weighs momentously on mankind, diverting our paths of progression in unpredictable ways and introducing new paradigms, often because of the creativity of just one figure. We are malleable creatures — we usually embrace these paradigm shifts as our own, implementing them into our lives and replacing old ways of functioning with those that are new and more efficient. While it is easy to be caught adrift in the ever-changing tides of the social changes induced by technology, many fail to consider what is being lost.
The explosion that is social networking is an excellent platform to illustrate this idea. Facebook has spread like wildfire, growing from an active user base of one million by the end of 2004 to over 950 million in 2012. This increase in numbers is incredible.
While a simple idea, something about the concept of Facebook allowed it to take hold of our interest and attention extremely rapidly. It is as if the world was waiting for it and latched on immediately once introduced. Yes, there are the practical users who utilize the online interface’s ability to occasionally communicate with friends and family and conveniently share thoughts and content, and that’s all fine and dandy.
But then there are those whose online profile acts as an extension of the individual. These profiles require constant monitoring and updating, which results in their owners engaging in incessant status updates and never-ending messaging.
What is most worrisome is the blurring of reality and diluting it to series of sharable moments that only seem to gain purpose once externally validated. No longer can there be a wedding without a stream of bridal status updates and redundant reception photos. No longer is the vista from a mountain top a profound, personal moment of silence and awe in appreciation of nature’s sublime beauty.
Rather, these things are now impressive feats to share with one’s network and embellish one’s profile, like a self-molded medal. No longer is giving birth enough of a reason to celebrate — it’s only after posting photos of the mother, often by the mother, of pre- and post-pregnancy.
A child’s development must also be logged daily with an obnoxious stream of photos of the clueless little runt with a face full of something or other in some cute outfit, as if dressing a doll for a product demonstration.
The moment, in and of itself, is no longer enough. Only after sharing the moment is its purpose fully realized. It has been stripped of its intrinsic value. And the worst part is, those on the other end of this digital feed of one’s life seldom care nearly as much as the person posting those statuses and photos thinks.
I have trouble seeing these new trends as merely a passing fad. I believe that the changes in behavior and values that have been introduced by these new technologies and platforms are here to stay, forever, in one form or another. Baroness Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist and professor at the University of Oxford, warns against the implications of instant gratification and impersonal communication that Facebook offers.
“As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilized, characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize and a shaky sense of identity,” Greenfield said.
So what should be done? Well, I don’t really know. Read a book or something, I guess. I like to think that the majority of my peers are self-aware to the degree at which they can detect personal tendencies and habits that are detrimental to the self and work to correct them.
The Digital Age will steer the evolutionary track of humanity further away from the successful predispositions that nature has worked so hard to attain, and social networking may irreparably sever mankind’s deeper and more profound connections to one another and the environment, replacing it with shallow gratification and a series of keyboard clicks through Internet personas.