There are two types of relationships with technology: digital immigrants and digital natives. Digital immigrants are those who have integrated into technology and did not grow up with it, like today’s older generations. Digital natives are younger people, mostly children and adolescents, who were born into technology. As digital natives are entering adulthood, we’re seeing a shift in the “American Dream.” Young people are becoming more and more detached from tradition. Less people are getting married, buying homes, having children, attending church, or joining political parties, among other things. Psychologist and bestselling author Julie Albright believes that the connection to technology is a driving force of these changes, “[Young people] are hyper-attached to digital technologies. That’s really changing the entire face of not only our social structures and world, but the economy and work and everything else.”
There is a behavioral shift toward wanting to be connected all the time. Albright says, “Teenagers now say they’re connected almost constantly. In Britain, there was a study [that] asked students ‘What did you do over the summer?’ 65% said ‘Well, I spent the summer by myself in my room.’ What they’re doing is they’re gaming and they’re on social media and texting and things like that. So these digital environments are taking the place of a lot of analogic activities of previous generations.” Physical socialization is turning more and more into digital socialization.
Many parents and digital immigrants struggle to understand this lifestyle. They want kids to go out and experience life, to socialize physically. Younger people are used to socializing across the digital sphere. Brett King, host of Breaking Banks podcast, describes it as a type of augmented human where “we’ve augmented ourselves with these technologies.” This is normal for younger generations and “it doesn’t occur to them that this is exceptional or different from their parents’ world,” relates King.
Digital communication has, in many cases, replaced face-to-face communication. A statistic mentioned by Albright claims that when the iPhone was first released, 90% of use was on phone calls and 10% of use was apps. Now, the exact opposite is true. Experts are worried that the pressure to integrate and conform to the digital world puts a unique pressure on kids of today that older generations who grew up without these technologies didn’t encounter. One problem with “living online,” Albright explains, is that these are “highly curated” faces, atmospheres, and bodies. “For young people who haven’t really got their self-identity pulled together yet or their coping skills,” Albright explains, “it’s really driving a lot of anxiety and depression.”
Mental health is a major symptom of digital dependence, says Albright, “We have the highest rates in 30 years amongst college students. 25% of college students in the United States are on some kind of psychotropic medication for a mental disorder. So this idea that we need to bring back, perhaps, or maybe re-swing the pendulum to get some balance in terms of our physicality. Maybe going out in nature, some of these things that other generations did routinely that bring a sense of calm and peace and that kick in the endorphins so that you boost the mood—and these things are sort of getting left behind in this race to be always on and always connected.” She urges people to look for time you can spend face-to-face without being mediated by a device.
Experts believe there’s more to the mental health concerns than just this, though. Brian Roemmelle, Voice First expert, explains that “if you go back to the average person in the 1500s, the information exposure of their entire life is equivalent to about one week that the average person is dealing with today. From an evolutionary standpoint, we have not developed the capacity to discern what all this means. And, beyond that, we only have a 41-bit per second human bandwidth throughput of consciousness. This is undisputed at this point. So that means, we have a limit to all that we can take in at our conscious level. So subconsciously, we’re absorbing basically 99% of this stuff, and what it’s doing to us is […] it’s creating this depression and information overload environment.”
We know technology has aided tremendously in advancing society, but there’s a learning curve still. Technology has advanced way more rapidly than any previous form of media. Philosopher Marshall McLuhan spoke of a new medium always advancing and building off the old medium. In this case, these technologies are brand new mediums. Seeing how today’s children are adapting to a technology-driven world are starting points to adapting, changing, and recognizing the appropriate places for technology.
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- Brett King, host. Julie Albright, guest. Brian Roemmelle, guest. John Best, guest. “Device Overload.” BreakingBanks. 05 Sept. 2019. Retrieved from Apple Podcasts.