Our Dance with Technology

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For many years, technologies such as the printing press and electric light bulb have been almost indispensable in our lives. The printing press enabled us (perhaps even forced us) to become readers, while the light bulb meant that our night times have no longer become a time when we simply fall asleep. Similarly, in recent years we have grown accustomed to communicating in writing with other people via the Internet rather than via letters. Many of us have even moved beyond the Internet and written word to texting and sharing images via social media. I suspect that there are many people now living who have never written a letter. It seems that technology not only leads us to adopt new behaviors, but also abandon old behaviors.

The dance becomes even more intricate as we delve into the functioning of our brains. It is not just a matter of doing more reading and less listening, or spending evening in an alert state, it is also a matter of the way our brain grows when we are children, the way in which it changes as we live through our adult years, and the way in which we remember things, feel about things, reflect on things, and take actions based on our thoughts, feelings and reflections.

As Children

Are we actively interacting with another person (such as our primary caregiver)? This interacting influencing the extent to which we discern the difference between random noise on the one hand, and important noises that soon become known to us as words and as something we can ourselves emit to some effect. We talking to other people, and they react to (and often express joy) in hearing us talk.

Conversely, are we passively watching something on TV while sitting in our cranked-up swing set? If this is the case, then we are less likely to differentiate what is being conveyed by the person talking on TV from other noises in our environment. It all seems like nothing more than a blur. And we are less likely to focus on language and interpersonal relationships. The technology of television has taught us how to be passive recipients of information, rather than active engagers in human relationships.

Interpersonally oriented psychologists and psychiatrists (such as Harry Stack Sullivan) have proposed that our basic sense of self is defined by our relationships with other people. We are one “self” when interacting with our mother, and another “self” when interacting with our best friend or our boss. Some psychologists (e.g. Brothers, 2001) takes it a step further, suggesting that our fundamental sense of reality is invested in our relationships with other people. We are finding out about not just our self but also all other elements of reality through our interpersonal interactions. Without this interaction, our world remains the blur of early childhood. If our early childhood relationship is primarily with a television, then does life remain a blur—since there is no interaction with the T.V. There is only passive reception of visual and auditory images.

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