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Computing - The Costs of Technology

Sandra Prior
Jul 14, 2008
Britain's Prince William Allegedly finalized his split with fancied future queen Kate Middleton by cell phone, and it was to their cells and to Facebook that students at Virginia Tech University in the US turned to check whether friends were among the casualties in the campus shooting last year.

There's no doubt technology has revolutionized our lives. But what has it done to our psyches?

The Negatives

While the practical benefits of technology are undeniable, the personal costs can be high - especially when you're young and have yet to develop socially. When you learn to communicate mostly through SMS or online, you don't learn to pick up nonverbal cues from eye contact, posture and gestures. These can give vital clues to what others are feeling and thinking, and without them it's easy to misunderstand - and be misunderstood. You are left constantly worrying about how to decipher intentions, often with good cause.

That's one of the drawbacks of online dating. Think about what happens when you meet someone for the first time. You're aware of the energy the person radiates. You are encouraged to remain in someone's presence by what they are not saying - their gestures, voice inflections and tones. You will even try to get close enough to smell this person through a consensual hug or dance. If this person does not hold eye contact with you, you won't go back for another encounter. Meeting people online demands a completely different set of instincts.

These are far harder to access, and this can feed our anxieties and insecurities. We can start feeling unrecognized, unloved or rejected when we don't receive SMSs or emails, or replies to those we send. This is known as the 'black hole effect' and it seems linked to our increasing reliance on SMSs and emails for a sense of validation.

Signs of this reliance range from the impulse to constantly check for communications to 'phantom phone ring disorder', or 'ringxiety' - where we start imagining we can hear calls. It's been linked to phantom limb syndrome, where amputees continue to feel a limb that's no longer there.

The lack of face to face cues in our electronic communications also produce 'the disinhibition' effect. On social networking sites My Space and Facebook, for instance, we dub the people we want to visit our blogs 'friends' - but they can be complete strangers anywhere in the world. Without visual cues and responses, we tend to open up quickly and make disclosures we may later regret, leaving us feeling vulnerable or exposed. This false intimacy can destroy those relationships later when we may feel disappointed or overwhelmed.

The disinhibition effect can also encourage us to explore things such as porn and cybersex, putting us at risk of abuse or addiction. There are so many options and so few restrictions online, and for this reason we aren't always equipped to handle this other world. It becomes easy to neglect or avoid real life relationships because of online relationships and online sexual activity (OSA). This can become an outlet for unresolved relationship issues or sexual difficulties, leaving them unaddressed. It's possible to find so much solace in online communication that you fail to deal with or resolve real life problems.

Our 24/7 bombardment by communications today means we're always 'on', and this can cause considerable stress, which inevitably impacts on our lives and relationships. The blurring of boundaries between our personal selves and work selves adds to the stress. We can also lose perspective through what researches describe as the narrowing of our social circle, because technology makes it very easy to communicate across distances and access our chosen communication partners and sources of information.

The Positives

On the other hand, technology also has the potential to impact positively on our psyches - and not just because of the obvious advantages it offers, enabling us to manage our lives more efficiently, faster and over a greater distance than ever before.

There is no longer a need to feel isolated or alone, with the mass of chat rooms and websites out there, catering for every personality type and interest group. Properly understood and handled, online dating can be a very useful way of exploring yourself. It gets you to think about how you want others to know you, and about what aspects of yourself you see as positive and attractive. It also gives you the opportunity to imagine the perfect partner, giving you a chance to examine what you're looking for.

Solutions

There's no way we could reject technology, even if we wanted to - and there's no need to. What we must do is take responsibility and control. Set limits on our use of technology, and learn to prioritize information and our need to respond to input. The bottom line is that it's up to you to use technology, not the other way round.
About the Author
Sandra Prior runs her own websites at http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.
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