Tweet, Twitter, Poke, Update: The Dark Side of Technology Use

Serious life wasting

Posted Mar 01, 2009

Caroline Adams Miller has it right, I think. Social-networking tools like Facebook and Twitter undermine us. The late cultural critic Neil Postman had some straight talk for all of us about the role of technology in our lives.

I was intrigued and disturbed by Caroline's post, particularly her husband's reaction to his high school football team's Facebook page. As Caroline quoted him, " I can't get off this site!" He's not alone.

Caroline was correct when she said that most procrastination experts agree on the problem with technologies like this. I've certainly lamented these new technologies as deeply addictive distractions from life itself (see for example Facebook - a whole new world of time wasting or I'll just check my email, it will only take a minute). And, as Caroline noted, you end up ". . . commenting about what other people are doing, or commenting on something you are going to do, but you are not actually doing yet." I think these seductive technologies push us to the sidelines of life. We're too busy writing those 200 text messages a day to actually stay engaged in our own lives. Oh we're engaged, deeply engaged, but in what?

For me, the problem is that these technologies are incredibly seductive. They are ubiquitous, immediately available and immediately rewarding. We make rational decisions over irrationally short periods of time that suck us in. And, at the same time, these social networking tools don't just entertain us, they feed a basic human need for relatedness. The thing is, I don't believe it fulfills the need or we might get satiated and stop, much like eating.

Ah, that's just it, with these technologies many, many people develop the equivalent of an eating disorder or an addiction. We binge. There is no satiation, only increasing tolerance and use.

Neil Postman knew this all too well. He was famous, among other things, for his books "Amusing ourselves to death" and "Technopoly." He knew, as Caroline does, that these technologies, seemingly tools for productivity, can undermine our ability to be productive. He also emphasized what Caroline did about control. He wrote,

"There's the rub. In a Technopoly, we tend to believe that only through the autonomy of techniques (and machinery) can we achieve our goals . . . Will we control it, or will it control us?" (p. 142).

That's a question that each of us must ask in our lives. Are we in control of our online social networking?

Caroline concluded her post with a question, "Am I a twit for not twittering?" No, not in my opinion Caroline. You're just able to recognize a situation that will probably get out of control in your life. It has for far too many people already.

Concluding thought
I need to add that I'm not trying to put my values on others with these opinions. These thoughts are based on the reactions of so many people who use Facebook, Twitter and text messaging and who tell me how problematic it is for them. Far too many complain of how addictive it is and how these social networking tools have become a problem in their lives. I do interviews about this topic all the time. It is a salient social issue, and at the heart of the issue is self-regulation, a topic near and dear to my heart.

Some things I can change, some things I can't, and it takes wisdom to know the difference. These social networking tools can be like "falling into a big, black hole" as one of Caroline's colleagues remarked. It's wise to say away from big, black holes, isn't it?