In an “always on” society – where we constantly carry mini-computers in our pockets that are capable of solving nearly any problem or desire with a tap, pinch or click – we can’t seem to escape the ever-increasing role that computer technologies play in our lives.
But is this “new normal” quite so normal when it comes to health?
“We have started to normalize a state of permanent urgency, and most of the time, it’s not justified,” said Simon Gottschalk, a University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) sociology professor. “From a sociological perspective, since the self emerges out of the interactions with others, the fact that an increasing number of interactions are occurring at the terminal may spell the end of the self as we know it.”
In his new book, “The Terminal Self: Everyday Life in Hypermodern Times,” Gottschalk examines the social and psychological toll of increasingly online lives on work, education, family life, interactions, our sense of self and more.
According to Gottschalk, the constant intrusion of terminals, even with all of their conveniences, impacts our lives in several distinct and often unhealthy ways.
Health: In today’s “always on” society, we’re constantly being bombarded with negativity on email and social media. The problem? Being on the receiving end of constant anger, stress or other negativity triggers toxic neurochemical reactions in the body.
Relationships: Gottschalk warns that today’s “instant gratification” culture can lead us to unrealistically expect people to tend to our desires just as quickly. “It corrupts our interaction with people. We begin to feel entitled to have every one of our impulses gratified immediately,” he said.
Empathy: Face-to-face interaction incorporates a number of non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures and eye contact, but online you’re reduced to one medium — language. “That really complicates communication,” says Gottschalk.
Loneliness: The capacity to broadcast every passing thought, desire or emotion online is unique in human history, yet research shows that at no point in our history have so many people reported being lonely.
Loss of Skills: Gottschalk says there is evidence that dependence on terminals has caused previous skills to atrophy. “The fewer skills we develop to accomplish everyday functions, the more we rely on the terminal. And the more we use the terminal, the less skilled we become.”
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