Do we need a ‘digital detox’?

As a child of the 80’s, I feel I’ve experienced first-hand some important crossing points on the creep of technology into everyday life. I was really lucky to grow up with a family that invested in a home computer, starting with the BBC Micro from Acorn. This little beauty opened up a whole new arena of experimenting for me. We had books of machine code, sheer gibberish to me at the time, but allowed me to create games by slow manual entry. You could ‘code’ plotting routines and create exciting ‘whirly’ things on the screen. From this followed our first 386, with a turbo button!! A whopping 4MB of RAM. A significant move from the Micro. OK I cant claim to any sort of superior expertise now, but there was a subconscious training to expect a certain level of effort from myself.

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The BBC Micro from Acorn. Taken from http://www.computinghistory.org.uk
The TV and gaming culture at the time kept a certain level of human interaction and intrigue bubbling along. There are thousands of commentaries on the rise and fall of gaming at the time, not something I can add too. However there was always some effort needed, not only in getting started but also breaking ground in allowing your mind to associate actions with possibilities. Can’t get excited about an 8 bit pixel slugging across a tiny screen? We did! This might even include going to the video store to loan a game out, or meeting with your friends to see how to break into ‘level 6’. There was a minimum level of information needed, but you had to work for the rest. Quite often, those directions remained unique to your own thoughts. I had a Casio world time watch. Ohhhh. Very important for an 8 year old to know what time it was in Tokyo! There was only so much information we could grab at our fingertips. Periods away from this arena might have included playing outside, or an afternoon visiting somewhere new. Take your pick, I’m sure you can think of alternatives. In school, college and even university I had to listen to someone slowly walking through content on a blackboard. I had to take notes, and then do an exam! I didn’t get every note provided for me, nor did I expect it. I had to go to a library and read around a subject. Yeah, I sound old don’t I? Whatever, there’s some value in this.

Fast forward to mobile platforms, and the point and click culture. Someone has just liked your post, and your friend has liked his or her like. You’ve just spent an hour disagreeing with someone you’ve never met about the reason behind the demise of national rail. Now you can’t sleep as someone keeps responding. Why can’t I find those lecture notes online? An email just came through, 2 minutes after the last one. Why start another focused job, another email might arrive soon. The last one was the perfect example of someone who is too ‘busy’ and has no email etiquette whatsoever. They’ve annoyed you. Heart rate rising yet? And you’ve barely moved.

I’m in a real quandary with this. A measure of a person’s wealth rests not only on their bank balance, but their access to culture and knowledge. Maybe this should include education in how to process information. Access to the entirety of online knowledge on a personal phone is a massive breakthrough. We shouldn’t take this for granted, but I feel we have. I’m concerned that we are developing a society with a pure dopamine addiction to instantaneous gratification, whether it be right or wrong information. How many people can you count in the next 10 minutes that are walking and staring at their phone? I feel the technology is not to blame, but the way we use it. This includes implementing sufficient checks and balances along the way. We simply are not educated at a rate that has kept up with innovation. Unfortunately this now brings a sinister element as the recent rise in alt-news [aka bollocks] illustrates. An acquaintance suddenly becomes a self-prescribed judge of Facebook. Constantly commenting on everything. Of course, I could be missing the point. Maybe the education element is indeed changing for the better and the current/new generation will develop strategies to deal with the immense flood of information, good or bad. For this to happen, I feel we need to get back to some basics. Our mind has a distinct way of learning and responding.

So, digital detox? Maybe more of an information detox. It’s refreshing to take a step away for any period of time. I don’t necessarily think that has to include a complete break, but don’t lose sight of the provenance of this wonderful access right. Our minds need to be treated with respect. Give it the break and training ground it needs.

And for those clever buggers who might want to comment on the irony of this blog-post, its my first in ages and was done on a laptop. So there.

 

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