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Scrolling in Search of Happiness

How Technology is Changing Our Relationships

     A home-birth
to a mother of nine, and raised without television, I can’t help but
feel that something is missing in the way we are raising our children
now. We’re plagued by our over- stimulating rigorous agendas that
keep us from having the time to truly connect. Everything in our
media-saturated lives competes for our attention and the winner more
often than not is the thing that manages to outdo the others. The
extraordinary has become the norm and now the scale has shifted. The
family dynamic has been all but eliminated. The kids’ schedule
sometimes busier than the parents; from soccer, to ballet, to violin
lessons three times a week, we have no time for bonding as a family
and allowing children during their most vital years of development to
learn important skills, such as strategic self-awareness, analysis,
and boredom. Yes, I said we are not bored enough. This is a problem.

     In
an article entitled “Always On,” Harvard doctoral graduate in
sociology and personality, and practicing psychologist, Sherry
Turkle, takes an interesting stand on the topic of technology and its
influence on our social lives. She warns of the “unsettling
isolations” that come with being constantly connected to hundreds
of people through the use of social websites, while simultaneously
being completely alone (674). There is something dangerous occurring
in the new way we are living our lives, characterized by a distance
between our most authentic self and the one that lives through our
digital presence, and the fact that we have developed the ability to
jump back and forth between both worlds so seamlessly that we can
experience them “in near simultaneity” leaving us constantly
present and
absent at the same time (674). This “skill” if you want to call
it that, is changing how we fall (or stay)
in love, parent, interact, and make genuine human connections, the
things linked to true happiness more closely than any other life
experiences. Are we headed for a future without happiness?

     In
addition to the abstracting of authenticity there are other ways in
which technological advancements in our social lives and the pandemic
use of social media websites such as Facebook and Instagram are
having a negative impact on our happiness. Standards of privacy are
changing, and very rapidly. We open up the personal details of our
lives to the public as if it’s just the way things are. Facebook
“likes” and “shares” motivate excessive amounts of exposure
into our personal lives. We even offer up the personal information
given to us by others and allow total strangers to throw judgements
and opinions at us in an attempt to satisfy the need for the approval
or feedback that would be healthier found confiding in a close friend
or relative. We learned to navigate our most intricate feelings,
heartbreaks, and insecurities during our early stages of emotional
development while having unrestricted access to social media
websites. Chances are most of us have never experienced the
alternative.

     Sherry
Turkle describes these cheapened human interactions as “relationships
with less,” relationships with screens instead of people, and
explains what she refers to as the “new state of the self” that
is born when we learn to become absent from those around us while
being in constant contact with our virtual world. She claims that
“these are the unsettling isolations of the tethered self.” The
juxtaposition of the words “isolation” and “tethered” really
capture Turkle’s stand on the topic. The contrasting existence of
being connected (even roped, or restrained) to hundreds of people at
all times, but having a lowered expectation of the duties in their
role as our friends that allows for us to feel separated or alone
(674).

     Real-time
distant relationships that happen in rapid succession and in large
numbers have created disposable friendships. Access to hundreds of
people at all times has altered the way we perceive each person as
an individual with feelings, and emotions, and turned them into
something viewed as a whole entity apart from its individual members
(Turkle 168). As a result we have become less empathetic and
compassionate, even finding humor in the pain and suffering of
others. We laugh and mock, and the feeling of embarrassment or
humiliation experienced by the human punchline is the furthest thing
from our minds. Every teenager armed with a smart phone to capture
the moment so that there’s never a chance missed for the next viral
video.

     Social media websites, and the ever-increasing adolescent use of the
smart phone, have the potential to become a dangerous addiction. With
the gateway between worlds sitting right in our pockets (Turkle 675)
we find ourselves constantly “checking in” to our networks,
monitoring activity and the amount of attention we are receiving,
allowing the number of interested strangers to measure our
self-worth. All of a sudden this “happiness” we keep hearing
about is getting harder and harder to track down. Mostly because each
of the things that makes us feel good is a temporary fix created by
an increase in dopamine when people show interest in us. Once we
think we’ve found it, whether in love, or friendship, or
accomplishment, we don’t have to look very far to find a better
version of it. We are bombarded with constant reminders of others’
relationships and their displays of happiness that provoke us to
compare theirs to our own. Suddenly the boy I’m dating and the job I
have don’t seem quite as impressive, and out of nowhere I’m not happy
anymore. Click, swipe, compare, repeat.

     The
younger generation, of which I am a member, would say that technology
has made us more connected than ever. Eliminating the barriers of
geography and language that once limited our ability to communicate,
and offering platforms for people of common interest to come together
has been a good thing especially for those who struggle to make
friends in face-to-face interaction. Sherry Turkle acknowledges
certain benefits when she writes that “connectivity offers new
possibilities for experimenting with identity,” offering a
playground for our youth to engage in experiments with who they are,
and who they choose to be online (672). Additionally, technology has
given us access to more information than we could ever use, and
allows us the opportunity to stay up to date on government affairs,
which is an incredible resource when used correctly.

     While
these are undeniable advantages of our generation, they come at a
cost, and are mostly voiced
by those individuals who have never experienced the alternative,
having everything at their finger tips as far back as they can
remember. Technological advancements have surely given us the
luxuries of doing less to get the same result, and decreased the
amount of time we spend completing a task, but this has changed us.
It has made us lazy, always looking to invent new ways to accomplish
something with even less effort. It has robbed us of gratitude, as we
have learned that we can have anything we want in an instant. We lack
skills in non-verbal communication, self-awareness, analytical
thinking, and time management. Ongoing distraction provided by our
home computers and mobile devices allow us to avoid spending time in
silence with nothing stimulating our brains in order to discover who
we truly are, which is necessary before introducing the idea of
playing with a virtual version of ourselves. The brain interprets
boredom as a problem to be solved, which is why, when left to our own
devices, we will create things to entertain ourselves. We are
limiting creativity with constant stimulation.

     In
a Harvard study of adult development, one of the longest life studies
conducted in the world, 268 Harvard sophomores were followed for 80
years in an attempt to research and discover what creates happiness.
The studies’ findings showed that “close relationships, more than
money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives”
(Mineo). Replacing human relationships with screens and bots, with
masses instead of individuals, facades instead of realities, we may
be eliminating the possibility for true happiness, and the sad fact
is that we may be born into, grow up, and die within the timeline of
a generation who never had a chance to even know the difference.

     If
we could only slow down, and allow small things to evoke feelings of
wonder and awe, we would find ourselves in a world where we weren’t
chasing the ever-eluding happiness we think everyone else has. We
would love and choose one person and not allow the distracting
display of prettier faces, and happier couples dictate how we feel
about that. We would teach our children to create,
and find inspiration, to be grateful and learn that things worth
having take time. I’m not suggesting
you throw your computer out the window or smash your cell phone, only
that you learn to use them within their purpose and not allow them to
use you. Life is beautiful, look up.

                                                                    Works
Cited

Mineo,
Liz. “Good genes are nice but joy is better” 11 April 2017,

     https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-

     showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/
. Accessed 21 Sept. 2017

Turkle,
Sherry. “Always On.” The Three Rivers
Reader,
edited by Todd Barry, et al., Pearson
Learning

     Solutions,
2016, pp. 670-77.

Turkle,
Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More
from Technology and Less from Each other,

      Basic
Books, 2011. 

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