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Technology: Stop Calling it an Addiction

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Here's a fresh take on technology and the "addiction metaphor" courtesy of Nicholas Carr over at Rough Type:

The addiction metaphor also distorts the nature of technological change by suggesting that our use of a technology stems from a purely personal choice--like the choice to smoke or to drink. An inability to control that choice becomes, in this view, simply a personal failing. But while it's true that, in the end, we're all responsible for how we spend our time, it's an oversimplification to argue that we're free "to choose" whether and how we use computers and cell phones, as if social norms, job expectations, familial responsibilities, and other external pressures had nothing to do with it. The deeper a technology is woven into the patterns of everyday life, the less choice we have about whether and how we use that technology.

When it comes to the digital networks that now surround us, the fact is that most us can't just GTFO, even if we wanted to. The sooner we move beyond the addiction metaphor, the sooner we'll be able to see, with some clarity and honesty, the extent and implications of our dependency on our networked computing and media devices. What happens to the human self as it comes to experience more and more of the world, and of life, through the mediation of the screen?

(Thanks, Daily Dish.)

Source: Rough Type

Image courtesy of urbanshoregirl, licensed under Creative Commons.

ernest
5/20/2010 2:18:35 AM

The thing wrong with Jeff Einstein's thinking is that it assumes that using the internet/'consuming media' is the end, not the means. I don't use the internet for the sake of using the internet. I don't talk to people, do my work, buy things and sell things over the internet, just so I can use the internet. I use the internet so I can do most of these things. The internet has made pivotal changes to the way we do things, like the steam engine has made transport easier, the internet has made nearly everything easier.


charlie_4
5/19/2010 3:31:41 PM

I accept that many forms of technology are now woven into our lives and that some individuals have less choice than others about whether or not these technological implements are part of their lives. My job as a professor allows me to do without a cell phone and I make that choice happily. I do not need one. My students, on the other hand, are increasingly incapable of paying attention through a 50 minute class on international relations without pocket texting or checking their message boards and, after class has ended, they are on their cellies before they have left the room. At that point, whatever is going on becomes very much like an addiction. In many ways these devises serve as engagement barriers where these students would far rather engage a virtual reality of familiarity than encounter a new flesh and blood individual and hold a meaningful conversation.


jeff einstein_1
5/19/2010 6:43:25 AM

Not an addiction? According to the Middletown Media Studies from Ball State University, the average American consumes almost 12 hours of media (mostly electronic) each and every day. Two out of every three waking hours are spent consuming media. That's six solid months of media consumption each year, every year. How would we describe any other discretionary behavior that consumes half our lives? Addiction is not about the individual narcotic; addiction is about the behavior, and addictive behavior is pretty much the same irrespective of the narcotic. Addiction is about where we spend our time and money. If the media consumption numbers from the Ball State University Middletown Media Studies have any credibility at all, addiction is the only appropriate and legitimate word to describe our media consumption habits. To describe the same obsessive-compulsive behavior merely as "personal failings" lets us off the hook way too easily, and utterly ignores the far more important question: How do we survive our own capacity for excess now that it's powered by billions of microchips? We consume massive amounts of commercial media for one reason and one reason only: because we want to and because it makes us feel good to do so. The only difference between heroin and TV is that TV is a far more powerful, far more addictive and far more ubiquitous narcotic, hands down the most perfect drug ever devised. Can't GTFO even if we want to? Sounds like an addiction to me...


eddie stinson_1
5/18/2010 2:37:20 PM

You would think the author was talking about pain medication. Addicted to the point something rules your life has little to do with saturation. Having something available on every street corner doesn't help, however the key is always how one uses. Being addicted is something I am unfortunately very familiar with, and being a man with great curiosity,I'm without a doubt strung out on the internet.


doradufran
5/18/2010 2:27:47 PM

I think we need to differentiate between situations where engaging with technology is unavoidable, and those where it is a choice. It's not a choice or an "addiction" if it's necessary for your job - but on our personal time, most of us still have the ability to engage directly with the world without the protection or anonymity of a layer of technology. I think the word "addiction" comes up when it becomes apparent that technology is used as a primary and preferred method of engaging with the world, unnecessarily, by a person who could just as easily choose not to.


nancy smyth
5/18/2010 1:51:02 PM

Excellent article--I agree completely. By making this an individual pathology we obscure the changing social reality, which disempowers all of us.


san_1
5/18/2010 1:34:04 PM

Although there are many that have the opportunity to experience the world in person; experiencing the world through the mediation of the screen may be all that some have. Experiencing the world, perhaps not otherwise possible for some, provides the gentler stuff that dreams and hope are made of and soothes the recesses of the mind. And for those that do experience the world in real time, technology gives us new points of view and perceptions increasing appreciation of not only what we see but what we don't.