As a college student, I am working very hard to keep my head above water these days; as a broadcast journalism major, this statement holds even more truth, as I navigate my way through new media. At least once a week I learn something new about technology, whether that means learning a new computer program, learning to use a new smartphone app or just learning a popular technique to edit a video. Whatever the task may be I always found myself in a position where I have to learn something new and learn it fast.
Before conducting my media diet project, I did all of this without taking into account how I personally am affected by technology. In fact, before this project I never understood how such a concept was even possible. How could a computer control me when I am the human responsible to controlling it? Before, I would have simply replied that it doesn’t. However this question required a deeper analysis than the one I was providing. This was especially evident in Douglas Rushkoff’s introduction chapter of his book Program or Be Programmed.
Computers and networks are more than mere tools: They are like living things, themselves… It’s the digital technologies themselves that will be shaping our world, both with and without explicit cooperation.
So with this in mind, how could I expect myself to be unaffected by this new technology that was increasingly taking on a life of its own? After observing and testing myself for the past few months, I am convinced that technology has both a physical and emotional role in my everyday life.
The clearest way to articulate technology’s physical effect on me, mirrors those from Nicholas Carr’s article, Is Google Making Us Stupid? Back in the days when technology played a minor role in my life, I found great pleasure in reading books and taking the much needed time to find deeper meanings in them. However, once I began to use the internet on a more consistent basis, I lost my patience for complexity when it came to reading. I developed a habit of scanning long news articles and interesting text as if the answers to my questions were more important than the information the text had to offer. I would constantly ask myself, ‘Is this what I am looking for?’ or ‘Does this answer my question?’ all as if the message behind the text was irrelevant. In fact, to even concentrate long enough to fully read an article required much more effort than it once did. I found myself rereading my assigned materials for school over and over again, thinking periodically that the material was simply too dense for me to handle. Now looking back I question whether the material really was too difficult or if I was just too impatient to truly grasp an understanding from it.
During my video walk through, I especially noticed a difference in my demeanor while I interacted with new media. Whenever I am on my laptop or my smartphone I develop a very intense stare that can only be broken by moments of talking to myself. This stare I developed reminds me of someone who has been brain washed or who is under the influence of a drug. It is deep and at times petrifying; I looked at my devices as if they were draining the life out of me. For example, during a video walk through I was explaining how I specifically interact with Facebook, when all of a sudden I became very still; my eyes were wide and my mouth was open. My attention had fallen on a recent Buzzfeed quiz. In that moment I completely forgot what I was doing in the brief moments before. By the time I returned to my video walk through, I completely lost my train of thought. I noticed that whenever I took a mental break from my computer I would often stray to my Facebook or Buzzfeed apps on my phone. I did this to relax. However I was still overwhelming myself with technology.
I found that technology also plays a significant emotional role in my life. One day, while working on a video editing assignment, the computer software crashed and deleted my project. I felt so discouraged at that moment that I allowed this to ruin my entire day. In fact, every time technology failed me I would become emotionally unstable. I would become so anxious that I would even associate human qualities to the device, saying things like, ‘It’s doing this on purpose,’ and ‘my phone hates me.’
The moment I noticed my emotional connection with technology I began to worry about my well-being. Unlike my physical connection, I felt completely unable to control my emotional impulses, this was something that I wanted to change. I remember wondering, when did I become so angry and invested with technology? I felt personally obligated to somehow include this in my research because this was a major factor in my life that I wanted to change. To do so, I decided to dedicate some time in my day to a peaceful mind meditation. During this time I would not use technology. I would reflect on my emotional state at that moment and decide just how much of the frustration I felt was from technology. I decided to test my physical reaction to technology by assigning myself an objective every time I picked up my phone or my laptop. My objectives would be my sole purpose for using my device, if I were to ever stray away from it I would mindfully bring myself back, complete my task and sign off my device. This method allowed me to be very productive, this also reduced the moments where I stared blankly at the computer.
I discovered that I have a very calm demeanor when I am not using my phone or my laptop. There were moments during my research when I did not even remember to check my phone for the time. I found that by taking time out of my day to reflect, I am able to keep myself calm for longer periods of time whenever I am experiencing a problem with technology.
Before adding meditation to my experiment I was very much embraced with my emotional state whenever technology did not work for me. During these times I would forget that I ultimately controlled my frustrations and would blame everything on the computer or on my cell phone; as if the malfunction was in some way intentional. I also noticed this emotional reactions to technology during my Camtasia videos. If I was watching a funny Gif or video I would allow myself to become extremely happy however, if my computer was taking a long time to load up I would allow myself to become extremely frustrated. This instant flux of emotion was something that I personally wanted to learn how to control. Meditation allowed me to reevaluate myself every day and regain control of my emotions. This two hour break from technology also reminded me of the importance of making time for myself to allow myself to recharge.
Through my research I learned that it was very difficult for me to stay on task. By assigning myself an objective I was forced to have a meaningful reason to be on my computer, however I would constantly forget what that reason was shortly after I logged in. Also through meditation I discovered that I hold a lot of tension in my back and shoulders. Frankly, I never realized just how much technology stresses me out. By the end of my testing period, I was very clear minded and relaxed.
Through this project I have reached a deeper lever of agreement with Nicholas Carr. New technology is effecting our cognitive process. Those of us who are privileged enough to own a computer, a smartphone and/or an IPad touch experience a different level experience different levels of thought. When we live in a reality where information thrives at our finger tips, we tend to forget the desire to make discovery’s on our own. I honestly miss becoming lost in a book, in becoming sucked into deep face to face conversations and truly thinking critically about something that I truly care about. This experiment showed me the distinction between my cognitive thinking before and during my technological experience. Even though it is almost impossible to return to the time before my life became technologically demanding, I would like to try to find a balance in my life.