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Jenifer’s Shelter Island Journal: Technology pathology

Am I the only one who has ever found themselves crying tears of frustration in front of a computer? 

It’s become a comical meme, really — old person flummoxed by the modern world. A disclaimer here: Though I’ve owned and operated a computer for nearly 20 years, I don’t pretend that I still remain anything but computer semi-literate, fully realizing that some of my issues are the result of my continued, and likely willful, ignorance. 

But only some, because I believe I’ve been forced by a heedless, short-sighted society into accepting a highly questionable “status quo,” rife with all sorts of unintended consequences. It seems to me we’re all living in a decidedly abnormal “new normal.”

It’s not that I can’t acknowledge the benefits provided to me by technology, especially in word processing, though I sorely miss my Smith-Corona typewriter, which with its correcting cartridge was on the cutting edge back 50 years ago.

But I’m looking around now at what’s been true for over two decades, and getting “truer,”that we all live, like it or not, in a technology-driven society inundated by thousands of firehoses gushing “information” (much of it useless even when it’s not false, which it often is) and sometimes even targeting us individually.

And, though, yes, many seniors are flustered and frustrated by the ever-changing, user-unfriendly “protocols” we need to follow just to navigate simple transactions, the aggregate anxiety that is being produced by our growing dependence on technology is not only democratic — affecting all of us from toddlers to old-timers — but rapidly turning toxic.

Up until recently, the alarms about the effects of technology have been sounded primarily in regard to American youth. The following excerpt is from part one of a two-part series entitled “Disconnected” by Molly Belmont on the effects of digital devices and social media on school-aged children that appears in the March/April 2024 issue of NYSUT United (the New York State United Teachers magazine): “… high school social worker Trish Hoyer says social media is a dominating force in her students’ lives, and she’s afraid kids are more disconnected than ever … ‘I think that the use of social media platforms is having huge impacts on kids in negative ways … students are spending countless hours up into the night either communicating on social media or scrolling through feeds and that’s having a tremendous effect on their mental health.’

“Hoyer has seen big tech make ‘a giant social media-shaped hole’ in her students’ lives. ‘Teens and tweens, who are more prone to problematic social media use to begin with, are being served up an endless array of toxic and addictive content, and at the same time, their endless scrolling is taking time away from sleep, hobbies and in-person engagement.’ The result? Her students are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, insecurity, and depression. ‘We have to put some guardrails up when it comes to using these platforms,’ she says.”

It has become increasingly clear, however, that working adults between the ages of 25 and 65 are also suffering plenty of adverse side effects from excessive exposure to technology.

The following is excerpted from the 2023 Permanente Medicine Annual Report: “‘Technostress’ can cause various physical and emotional symptoms. Some people may feel depleted, down or burn out. Common symptoms and warning signs of technostress include: Increased fatigue, irritability/frustration; difficulty sleeping; feelings of not being effective at one’s job; lack of motivation or feeling apathetic; difficulty concentrating, focusing or thinking clearly; feeling restless, fidgety or anxious (anxiety can lead some people to have stomach pain, nausea and sleep problems); poor job performance and relationship problems ….and it can also negatively affect the immune system.”

In the first excerpt, high school social worker Trish Hoyer calls for the “guardrails” that must be established to protect our children. Hey, the U.S. Congress is clamoring for “guardrails,” too, but precious few seem to be appearing.

Aren’t parents the primary “guardrails” of those children, anyway?  But if they themselves are suffering the same toxic effects, if they are becoming as addicted to devices as their children, what’s to be done?

Waaay back in the day, the “Grendel’s Mother” of technology, television, had been let loose on society. For a while, at least, those screens could be turned off. They weren’t the epicenter of an individual’s life, encompassing entertainment, information, social interaction, work, leisure — everything.

Toothpaste tubes are the new quicksand. As a species we have mindlessly squirted out the contents of one techno-tube after another, so now empty ones are lying around everywhere and there’s no hope of ever getting any of that gunk back into them. 

We’re going to have to start where we are, if we are willing to somehow shrug off this techno-induced lethargy and marshal enough determination and focus to start at all.