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Technology — and its “Dumbing Down”

How consumerism is playing a role in changing the basic societal fabrics of our morals… and our minds.

Human interaction, an integral part of most lifestyles, has evolved greatly alongside mankind. Centuries ago, massive mountain ranges and expansive deserts used to isolate humans, while lush valleys and coastal zones used to unify humans. But now, in an era so developed and progressive, digital access and technology determine the connectivity of people. With the creation of brilliant devices and technologies, the world became and continues to become more linked. Technology propelled the human race rapidly, from creating means of fast and safe travel to tools of distant communication. However, all the advancement has cost us socially at rates we are just recently measuring. In an attempt to better connect us, technology drives us apart and creates artificial relationships. Advances in technology have left lasting social and physiological impacts on the public, changing the very foundations of our community.

The introduction of wartime propaganda in the 1900s provided the first signs of society’s dependence on technology. America, a pioneer in the advertising change, had an industrious economy, but a population suffering from two international conflicts and a global depression. As World War II neared its end, corporations needed to sell the surplus produced during the war, and in order to attract consumers, the same corporations needed to change the perception Americans had on consumption. Edward Bernays was an expert in wartime propaganda, but after the end of the conflict, he conceived a consumer-based economy.

A young Edward Bernays

An example of Bernays’ work included his method of using the media to attract females consume cigarettes when it was seen as taboo. Bernays’ use of subjective marketing strategies, as he targeted specific people and groups for capitalist gains, later became the strategies of corporations in the “dot-com boom” and other new industries. These corporations marketed products that catered to the individual. People now believed in advertising as a method to determine what products to buy, and with the alluring nature of technology, advertising became even more crucial. From radios to cell phones and personal computers to television sets, people did not expect to see such rapid creation of products that not only aid in the human lifestyle but also enrich it. Corporations profited from the unknown by marketing these new tools as necessities for the betterment of life. People gave in, regardless of the long-term costs, and this shift in mindset represents the background of a core issue occurring today — the increasing reliance of the younger generations on technology.

Devices and platforms, such as smartphones and social media, have shown technology’s benefits, but unfortunately, they have also shown its cons. Daniel J. Levitan, the author of the article “Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain”, promoted the idea that these new forms of communication tend to prompt people to be more blunt and manner-less. Research at McGill University also shows that these forms of communication make the users

“feel a sense of accomplishment, and [their] brain gets a dollop of reward hormones telling [them they] accomplished something”.

Both of these interpretations culminate into evidence that these popular forms of communication do not improve lives as they are often perceived and advertised. In fact, the quantity of multitasking these devices perform is just another detrimental effect. Russ Poldrack, a Stanford neuroscientist, and Glenn Wilson, a Gresham College psychology professor, both agree that multitasking hurts cognitive activity, and

“just having the opportunity to multitask is detrimental to cognitive performance”.

The fact that multitasking has a negative impact represents the dire need of a perception change.

Russ Poldrack

People often believe they are more productive by using their devices, but since our brain does not function that way, people are unconsciously hurting themselves. Even worse, the marketing and technological abilities of these devices cause people to continuously buy and be dependent upon them.

Various technological platforms are also causing people to be more independent of their decisions and values. A Notre Dame sociologist, Christian Smith, and his team used an interviewing process to accentuate the differing moral interpretations among young adults, and the responses have shown an outwardly

“atmosphere of extreme moral individualism”.

Uniformity in most morals is a common ground seen among people and is a necessity in a diverse nation like the United States. Smith’s research, however, highlights that this moral indifference causes people to not share common views on issues as simple, but important, such as cheating on partners. Smith, in the article, “If It Feels Right…”, tries to

“emphasize [the youth] have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions, and families”

to be the root cause of this issue. Former so-called “moral institutions”, such as schools and families, do not cultivate morality at the same level as the past and this will cost society when these young adults become the heart of the workforce environment. It is indeed not a coincidence that the rapidly increasing issue with moral individualism comes in the same period as the technology boom.

Teenagers on their devices immediately after school.

The association can mostly be related to the vast quantity of information and differing viewpoints the younger generations receive from communication and entertainment means. There will always be people on both the good and bad sides of a spectrum, but with the prevalence of technology, some people are being into complacent and tolerant, viewpoints.

The rise in video culture with the modern technological advances has created a haven for not only disinterested masses but also groups of people who put opinions before facts. As journalist Charles Pierce said in one of his works,

“[The rise of ‘idiot America’] also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they are talking about”.

American culture, as some argue, is a herding mentality quite evident in many industries where people are judged by their looks rather than intellect. Strides have been made in this direction, but the adamant nature of this mindset is not one that can be taken lightly because of its impact on the youth. Students are given the idea that school is not as important as it looks, and they often choose to follow the easier pathway, resulting in them no longer being passionate about education. The sense of independence from education causes people to use rationale less and less, and use their emotions to convene their thoughts. Author Bill Keller, in one of his New York Times pieces, argued that with the more online venues to interact with, people’s emotions, crowd mentality, and other factors that culminate into anti-intellectualism are now shown through and from the media.

Author Bill Keller

Internet access and a platform to simply type are all that is needed to send one’s opinion internationally, and the cons of having that opportunity are shown when people began to spread news and opinions without proper evidence, and large online confrontations with differing opinions. The rising popularity of utilizing less factual backing in making one’s claims online ironically further supports the negative effects of technology; the correlation between anti-intellectualism and popularity also raises awareness about the impact technology has on the more global atmosphere.

Change is always a necessity, and technology is a vehicle that helped and continues to help in changing our world. Without technology, human life standards would plummet, and the world would go back to its primitive stages. The creation of various forms of technology has helped support humanity in its darkest times and has helped nurture humanity in its brightest of time. However, all of these positives do not outweigh technology’s negatives, especially regarding the ability to change human perception, thought, and socially conscious. Humans, from far and wide, must come to the realization that it is crucial to control over technology before it consumes our society in one gulp of ignorance and indifference.