Technology: Freedom or Shackles to Society?

Mon, Nov 21, 2011, by Luann Suhr

Social Networks

This article focuses on the effects of technology on society addressing daily living, social networking, education, business, support, and community.

Are the effects of our contemporary technology beneficial, harmful, or both? Some of the benefits are that we can use the internet to keep in touch, to share opinions, to keep ourselves posted on events or even to network. Some of the negative effects are that we don’t genuinely interact with each other; we become impatient and frustrated more easily, and we want all of our information on the run. People can argue that the effects are just positive or just negative, but the truth is it’s both. It’s all in how you use it. Some people use technology to waste time and others to save time. There are positives and negatives, but like any new thing people will misuse and abuse power until they are reprimanded for it. Then they’ll just find the loophole.

Technology and Daily Living
Although text-messaging can sometimes be really annoying and spam-like, there are still quick important messages that get through to us via our cell phones. If you still receive mail, compare it to that. You may get lots of junk mail but then you also might get a nice card or a heartfelt letter. The internet and cell phones have become lifelines for our society. You will often hear someone comment, “I do not know what I did before they existed.” You can use the internet to date, to make friends or pen-pals, and even to meet people who live a block away from you. It is easier, but is it necessarily better? Have people really lost the ability to make friends in person? I will freely admit that I am an internet junkie. I love the internet like it was my soul-mate but I can still easily do without it. Sure the mind wanders off to think about it sometimes but if you have something interesting to do at hand then you can forget all about it. The problem is today’s children and adults have no extracurricular activities. They sit and watch television or the computer or just text on their phone. Yes, I’ll have to agree with William Deresiewicz, “We have given our hearts to machines and [to an extent] we are turning into machines.” Have people really lost the ability to survive without technology? Maybe they have. You see people on the train with their phones out even though they can’t make a call. They use their phones to play games, to listen to music, and sometimes they just feel the need to hold it, to know that it’s there. There are people with Kindles and ipads who have lost the knowledge of what it feels like to turn a page. The bookstores and libraries are emptying as the electronic store employees brace themselves for the onslaught of people they receive in their store daily. One must also argue that if you were to take away this technology that people would still persevere, as is the case with the New York City transportation system striking and people finding other ways to get to work, whether by carpooling, walking, or riding a bike. People are resourceful and though it may be hard, they will be able to live without machines.

The Internet and Friendships
I wonder if you could please elucidate the modern meaning of friendship for me. Historically, it may have been a big thing but in today’s modern times what does it truly mean to be someone’s friend? On the internet, it honestly doesn’t take much to be considered as such, like on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean that our reality-based friendships have suffered any for it. It’s easy to call someone friend but you still expect them to prove their loyalty to you if the time arises. You’re not out there fighting dragons together but you hope that they will at least defend your honor with words if the time comes when that defense is necessary or needed. Facebook friends do not replace traditional friendships; they help to make them stronger. After receiving this assignment, I used Facebook to ask my friends about this very subject. One of my cousins responded telling me how it’s good for her as a stay-at-home mom because she still gets to keep in touch with everyone, receive advice, and share pictures of her daughter with family members that live far away. Another friend of mine said that it’s negative because, and I quote, “I get to find out how many people have diarrhea of the keyboard every day.” It is true that some people talk about nothing online, just as people do in person, but on the internet you can ignore the ridiculous commentary or the monotony so much easier than in real life.

The Power of Facebook
Facebook has been a really powerful research tool for me. I have used the internet to trace my family tree and Facebook to connect with lots of my family that I had never even met before. I have even made a family group on Facebook at the request of one of my family members, so we can all keep ourselves up-to-date on each other’s lives. As Mark Zuckerberg states in his article about Facebook, “a world that’s more open and connected is a better world.” Although I was a little skeptical about Facebook at first, I have now come to love it. It is an amazing concept like the six degrees of separation. I have found friends through other friends’ profiles. Some of my friends I met at totally different points of my life. While going through their friends list, I discover some old friends of mine or I see that we have common friends that I never knew about. Yes, I do have over a thousand friends on Facebook but I don’t believe that I’m addicted. I still go out into the real world. I still talk to people; I go and meet the flesh and blood kind. They become my friends and acquaintances then my Facebook friends. People send me friend requests and if I don’t recognize them I simply ask them who they are. If they say things like “oh I’m a friend of your friend” and I’ve never met them, I tell them “sorry, I only add people I know.” Sometimes we write and meet up and become friends. Sometimes they go off into the cyber abyss and I never hear from them again. There was a guy I corresponded with off of a dating site. He called and after talking for about a minute he requested that I add him on Facebook so he could see more pictures and got really defensive and upset when I said no. “It’s just Facebook, why won’t you add me?” he angrily shouted. Finally he stormed off the phone but not until after insulting me and telling me that I’d never find anyone. Some people do get very emotional and upset over nothing but they are that way in real life too.

The Internet and Education
The internet has a lot of junk on it, people and things, but it also has a lot of good things as well. Your doctor could be one that studied and learned online. He or she could have read numerous articles from medical journals around the world. One of those journals that they read on the internet could have information that could save your life, information that they might not have gotten any other way. A news article is a story, sometimes with a twist of opinion. That’s all the internet is, stories. Some are true, some are not. Distinguish fact from fiction. You can find misinformation on the internet or in a textbook. It doesn’t make the internet any less valuable. I constantly use the internet for research: personal, professional, and educational. If I don’t know the meaning of a word, I can easily look it up in an online dictionary. If I need to know the pronunciation, I can listen to an audio file. Schools promote the use of technology all the time. The internet has become a valuable commodity to the educational system. Teachers use PowerPoint; put lessons on Blackboard (and I don’t mean the one you write on with chalk); and give students assignments where they need to use the internet as a research tool. A perfect example would be this assignment, if I didn’t use the internet or didn’t use Facebook then how could I write this paper?

Distraction and Education
Sitting here I am looking around at all of my surroundings, losing focus at the crunch of a plantain chip bag; looking as people take off their coats; and reading the newspaper or book of another, because I am not focused. Earlier today I had the exact opposite problem. I was so focused on writing that I almost missed my stop. Maggie Jackson states, “We are [a nation] shaped by distraction.” The distraction can be good and keep us aware of our surroundings or we can become our own distractions. We live in our own worlds unaware of another person’s presence. Our daily routines consist of weaving through spaces unaware of or unconcerned with the people around us. Our minds have become like the eye of a person with astigmatism, unable to focus. Maggie Jackson argues that, “Nearly 60% of 15-year-old’s in the United States score at or below the most basic level of problem solving. Many high school students can’t synthesize or assess information, express complex thoughts, or analyze arguments.” My question is this, how many were able to before? You cannot blame technology for the degradation of our educational system. Look back to the tests of yesteryear and try to solve them. People used to receive more education by the fourth grade than some people today do at the college level. Education used to be valued, now it’s just necessary. Why does it now take us so much longer to learn the same tasks? A perfect example, I learned to read in Kindergarten and my younger brother learned to read in first grade. The principal of the elementary school, who is a person not technology, wanted it done that way. Why couldn’t my brother have learned the same as I had just two years before? The school system could be holding back a lot of children who could learn much faster. My brother started to get bored with school at a young age because he said they teach the same thing over and over. That boredom got to the breaking point as he reached high school and he dropped out. Maybe that decline in the ability of our children to accomplish these tasks that Ms. Jackson talks about, that decline that was not brought about by technology but by ourselves, is the reason for so many dropouts.

Business and Education Advancements Through Technology
Businesses and the common man can have the same kind of information easily available to them through the internet and other means of technology. They can use the same technology for different things. A business can have its meetings through an iphone, through the internet, and through other means of technology as well. The common man can use it for education and productivity. One example can be applications for iphones, commonly referred to as app’s, which can be used for different functions. They can help you to learn different subjects or help a business to grow and become more productive. In education alone, the subjects are numerous. There are educational applications for English language arts; English language development; mathematics; science; history & geography; art, music, & creativity; health & physical education; and language too. These applications function as study aids; reference tools; increase productivity; provide accessibility; and allow collaboration with other programs. Businesses can use these applications and the internet to get different clientele and to spread knowledge of their product or their company. Kids are rumor mills but they can also be powerful advertisers. Social networking helps things to become viral. A business can spread their message faster and more efficiently by simply using the internet.

The Internet and Support
Through the internet people have the ability to learn through others experiences, and to build relationships with others in similar predicaments. There are support groups for all sorts of different things that you may not be able to find in your own community. Kate Dailey states, “Posting personal experiences … allows [people] who have lived through similar experiences to reach out.” A perfect example would be parents of children with rare diseases or birth defects. They are able to converse with other parents around the world who are in the same situation as themselves. Sometimes they can be mountains of support for each other and sometimes they can help each other by spreading the information they each have received. This information is priceless but so valuable. Imagine no one in your country has even heard of your child’s condition and you do your own research on the internet and discover somebody else who has a child with the same condition as your child. Would you not be so excited to find somebody else who knows what you are going through and who might be able to shed some light on your situation? Wouldn’t you be so happy to know you now have a shoulder to lean on that actually understands what you are going through? Another example would be the blogger. In Emily Gould’s piece she talks about how supportive her readers were. She states, “Online commentators … came to my defense” and “… helped me to return to writing.” Through the internet, she regained confidence in her writing and in herself.

A Sense of Community
Though we are not machines, most of our hearts have turned into cold dark places where love does not reside. We see things and ignore them, not because we are on our phones but because we do not care anymore. We see somebody on the street starving, we ignore them. We see someone crying, we do not ask them what’s wrong. We see a person struggling, we do not normally ask if they need help or even think about stopping to help them. Did you see that clown on a unicycle? (Parker-Pope). Probably, but do you care to remember that you did? Do you care about another person besides yourself? You probably don’t. Society over the decades has dwindled down the meaning of community not because of technology but because people do not care anymore. How many times have you seen young kids sit while an elderly person stands, swaying to and fro, trying to balance with their cane? How many people will offer up their seat to that older, disabled, or pregnant person? Our manners, our love for one another, are going down the drain. A community used to be people you cared about. You used to help each other. The barter system was prominent and you depended on other people. As society progresses towards independence of the individual, the true meaning of community will slowly be lost forever.

What Do You Think?
I feel free when I leave my cellular phone at home. I do not feel like I’m the mother leaving my child behind. Just because I am not that emotionally invested in my own technology does not mean that technology itself is negative. Technology has progressed through the years. We have made numerous new discoveries and inventions that will help mankind throughout its coming years. Technology does control us, but only to the extent that we let it. Some people have become slaves to their own devices, but only if they wanted to become them. As William Deresiewicz states, “We are nothing to one another but what we choose to become, and we can unbecome it whenever we want.”

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Works Cited

Dailey, Kate. “Friends with Benefits: Do Facebook Friends Provide the Same Support as Those in Real Life?” Newsweek. 15 June 2009. Web. 6 Oct. 2010.

Deresiewicz, William. “Faux Friendship.” Utne Reader. May-June 2010. Web. 6 Oct. 2010.

Gould, Emily. “Faith in Facebook.” Newsweek. 12 June 2010. Web. 6 Oct. 2010.

Jackson, Maggie. “A Nation Distracted.” Utne Reader. March-April 2010. Web. 6 Oct. 2010.

Parker-Pope, Tara. “What Clown on a Unicycle? Studying Cellphone Distraction.” New York Times. New York Times, 22 Oct. 2009. Web. 6 Oct. 2010.

Zuckerberg, Mark. “From Facebook, Answering Privacy Concerns with New Settings.” Washington Post. Washington Post, 24 May 2010. Web. 6 Oct. 2010.

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