How Are Devices Changing How We Think & Live?

02 Apr 2013

Did you spend Easter dinner (or any other family meal) with certain members disengaged in conversation because their heads were buried in their phones or tablets?

Certainly our digital devices are changing how we think and interact with each other. But it’s too early to tell how or to what extent.

As one who teaches a college interpersonal communication course, I see that young people (and some not so young) struggle with saying no to immediate communication. I stress over and over how it’s ok to go against culture and to ignore texts, especially while in class, during face-to-face conversations (yes, we have to use that term now to differentiate), and most especially, while driving. Many have underdeveloped interpersonal skills, so the course is great for them.

We can point to two or three major shifts in history that altered communication and how the mind works. The first two are related: written language and literacy. Before the moveable printing press, books were hand copied, so were only in the possession of the wealthiest. Once the printing press starting churning out inexpensive books, the masses began to learn to read.

We know that when someone learns to read, there is a fundamental shift in the way their brain works. Consider all the things people no longer had to remember! Instead they had the possibility to write things down and look them up later. A great burden was lifted from the human brain.

The third major shift we can attribute to the digital age, which is generally considered to be about the year 2000. Though we had radio, film and television in the last century, around 2000 is when the internet started to reach critical mass as well as an explosion of new delivery media and methods. These, of course, include things we can’t image living without, such as mp3 players, smartphones, tablets, inexpensive laptops, video games, video on demand, and the development of the cloud (where software and data are stored somewhere besides on your devices). The future will likely be all about the cloud. Sony and other companies are committed to this model because it’s cheaper and faster to deliver content digitally rather than by print, disc or other hard media.

I focused on media effects in my doctoral studies; that means I studied how media affects people, or more importantly, how people interact with media.

If you saw my interview, Do Movies Make People Kill Others?, you know that research shows that movies or other media do not make people do bad things. Or restated, they might encourage some predisposed people to do bad things some of the time.

So when I came across the following article, I knew I wanted to share it with you.

The Child, the Tablet and the Developing Mind is an piece by New York Times writer Nick Bilton.

It’s worth keeping an eye on this developing topic. However, I can think of many instances when I’ve been in family settings where people were not communicating, devices or not!

There was a day when children and young adults were educated in the art of conversation. I think we would do well to revive some of that. If kids knew how to engage in interpersonal communication, maybe they wouldn’t default to their devices.

Be sure to click on the article.

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