True Life: I’m Addicted to Technology

It is the constant obsession of wanting to always be in the loop, to know more, and always being available to people at all times. We fill our heads with useless facts, false realities, rumors and gossip, made-up television series, lyrics to songs, etc. and try maintaining it all as if it were actually useful and valuable information. I know from personal experience that I no longer feel the need to ask questions. I am accepting of only taking things at surface-level value and then moving on in my busy life. But if I live my life always accepting what I am told, where is there room for self-improvement? I accepted the challenge of exploring my digital life and monitoring how my technology use has affected my self-development. My generation, which is known as the “millennials,” have grown up with the Internet being a very accessible thing to us. We have the world at our finger tips, but we have altered the way we learn and experience life. Multitasking is a way of life. We are engrossed on the idea of being preoccupied with distractions and interruptions. Our online and offline lives have merged into an unison reality. In this paper, I will explain my three month journey of evaluating how I live my digital life; then, I will explore the issues with technology and multitasking; and finally, I will reflect on this challenging project as a whole and what I have learned from this experience.

It is always easy to point the finger at everyone else, but when it comes to evaluating yourself, that is when things can become extremely difficult and kind of scary. I took some time this semester to examine my digital usage and to evaluate how I live in media. I did weekly brain dumps in an online journal to get my thoughts out of not only my own personal use, but also what I witnessed from my peers. Later in the process, for about two weeks, I logged my all technology use on my computer and my phone to gather my own personal data based on my own experiences. Throughout the course of my studies, I challenged myself to question why my peers and I interact in this digital world the way we do.

I started my journey by doing some self and peer-examining writing assignments. I wrote in an online journal every Wednesday night from February 11 until April 15. I accumulated ten total entries. I refused to give myself any certain criteria or restrictions on these journals so I could fully allow myself to just let everything out. The concept was simple: brain dump anything and everything I thought about digitally with new media and technology from that week. I tried not to force myself to write for a certain amount of time or a given length requirement — although each journal ended up being roughly 350 words, — but rather I just let my fingers type whatever my brain was thinking fluently.

I based majority of my entries off things that I observed or have done myself. Rereading some of the journal entries, I have noticed that I do not always tend to develop my full thoughts. I started my journal by writing about one topic at the beginning of an entry and then by the end I was talking about something completely different. I looked for certain patterns or repeating thoughts in my journals.

A few weeks after I started my weekly journals, I began to log my technology usage on an excel sheet. I looked at my computer and phone usage and what I was doing on them. For my computer, I split up my usage into six main categories: Homework/Research, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, Buzz Feed, and other. For my phone, the classifications were Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, Instagram, e-mail, and other. I did not log how long I was on my phone texting because that would have been too difficult. I also focused mainly during the school week, Monday through Friday because those are the days I should be most productive.

I managed my media logging on an excel sheet. My usage between my computer and my phone and these two groups were categorized into six sub-categories.

I have a few concerns with the accuracy of my logs. When trying to keep track of yourself, there is a lot of room for human error. I would catch myself looking at my phone without even realizing it. I also found it hard to get the exact amount of minutes on every app on your phone; I rounded up to the nearest minute and did not necessarily keep track of seconds, which could have skewed the results. There is also a good chance I could have very well miscalculated some numbers. At any rate, I logged my activity to the best of my ability.

Despite the possible room for error, the results were made up of a lot of my personal data on my digital use. The results were both shocking and a little frightening. I spent a lot more time on the computer every day than I originally expected. On average, I spent about 15 hours on my computer a week, which averages to about three hours per day. Granted majority of my computer usage was dedicated and focused towards by studies and school work, but a lot of time was also spent on entertainment websites such as various social networking platforms, Buzz Feed, and music. On top of that screen-staring overload, I spent a little less than ten hours a week on my phone, excluding texting and phone calls — averaging a little less than two hours a day. I found it interesting that some social networking sites were more popular on my phone than my computer. For example, I frequently visited Facebook on my computer and rarely Twitter, but on my phone, I went to Twitter more than Facebook.

Camtasia software helped me realize my multitasking problems while I attempted homework. As shown in this picture, there are five web browsers open, while I sit there staring at my phone.
Here I am pictured in my literature class watching a how-to video about making grilled cheeses. This is an example of how technology can be distracting.

I used Camtasia to better understand my computer usage. Camtasia is a software program that records not only your computer screen, but also your audio and your facial expressions through the use of your webcam. Camtasia helped me realize my multitasking habits. I learned that I self-consciously would switch between entertainment websites and homework. For example, I would be reading a class assignment online and between every paragraph or whenever I would find a good stopping point, I would go onto a social networking assignment; or I would pick up my phone mid-sentence to respond to a text and then I would find myself on an application after that. Multitasking is a very unhealthy habit to have. “The brain cannot effectively or efficiently switch between tasks” (Kleiman, 2013). There is this sense that we are more productive when we multitask, but the only thing that is more productive with multitasking is “the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the flight-or-flight hormone adrenaline” (Levitin, 2015). According to Daniel Levitin, these excess stress and adrenaline hormones can overstimulate our brains and cause a scrambling of our thoughts and a mental fog. In reality, multitasking actually forces us to take four times longer when retaining information, rather than just sitting down and looking at the information without interruptions. Gloria Mark, a professor at the University of California — Irvine found in her studies that on average, a person gets only 11 minutes of work done between each interruptions throughout the workday. After an interruption, it takes a person on average 25 minutes to return their focus to the original task.

This picture shows me studying while I have six web browsers open along with spotify, creative cloud, a few word documents and my program folders opened as well.

A study published in the New York Times placed 136 subjects into three groups and had them all take exams. Group A was the controlled group was just told to promptly take the exam. Groups B and C, however, were told that they were going to receive a text message during the exam for further instructions. During the first test, groups B and C both received two texts. The results showed that groups B and C performed 20% worse than the control group A. During the second exam, group B received two additional texts, while group C anxiously waited for an interruptions, but they never received another text. The outcome of this second exam was unexpected. Group C actually performed better than the control group A. Thompson and Sullivan said that this was because “the potential for interruptions served as a kind of deadline that helped them focus even better.” In the end, the experiment showed that society is “focused on a distraction,” and this focus is robbing us of brain power (Thompson, Sullivan, 2013).

In regards to my phone usage, the results from my logging made a lot of sense. I tend to fly through my family’s data plan every month fairly quickly. I was kind of stunned though to realize that I spend on average a little less than ten hours a week on my phone excluding texting and calling. That is a lot of time that should be used in a more productive or healthier manner. In reflection, a lot of this time added up from my shuttle rides between the Lake Shore Campus and the Water Towers Campus. If you look on the shuttle, almost every single commuter has their headphones in their ears and their phones in their hands.

Another chunk of my phone usage was right before I went to sleep. Your bedroom is supposed to be for sleep and sex only. A Harvard University medical study actually proved that using your phone while in bed or before you go to bed can cause you to not fall into the deep sleep you need to receive every night in order for your body and brain to recover. The reasoning is because “the timing of exposure to the light-dark cycle is the most powerful means by which the circadian clock, the body’s biological time keeper, is synchronized to the 24-hour day, powered light” (Smart Phone Can Cause Insomnia: Harvard, 2014). Messing with our biological clock messes with our brain release the hormone melatonin which puts your body to sleep. So in other words, if you use your phone before you go to sleep, your hormones will become out of whack and you will not get the deep sleep your body and brain needs to recover; therefore, in the morning you will probably find yourself feeling more tired or drowsy.

After logging my digital life and analyzing the results, I decided to challenge myself by trying to give up social media in a sense. It was extremely challenging because my dependency on my devices is kind of like an addiction such as smoking cigarettes — you cannot really give that up cold turkey. I allowed myself to still use my phone and computer, but I attempted to monitor what I was doing while on those devices. I set a side time blocks throughout the day where I would not let myself use my phone. If I was doing homework, I placed my phone in the other room and I challenged myself to not open up other web browsers besides the respectable ones I needed for my course readings and assignments. I moved my phone charger from beside my bed to across the room so I would not be tempted to check my phone before I went to sleep or in the mornings. Surprisingly in the first few days after doing this, I was feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally a lot better than usual. I woke up well-rested and in a good mood to start my day. I also started my day a lot more productive. On a typical morning, I will snooze my alarm clock about 15 times before leaving my bed, but when my phone, a.k.a. my alarm clock was set to the other side of the room, it forced me to get out of my bed and turn it off before my roommate got mad at me. Another area where I tried to limit my digital use was on the shuttle. I did not allow myself to use my social networking applications on my phone while on the shuttle; however, I still allowed myself to listen to music. The only limitation to this was that I did not let myself put my ear buds in until I sat down on the shuttle.

Although I found this exercise very beneficial, I do not think I could consistently stay of my applications like that, which is actually kind of sad that I am that dependent on my phone. My devices are almost like another limb or a part of my outfit. I reside to my Twitter, Instagram, Snap chat and other social networking applications as a new medium for expressing myself. I am, however, working on being more responsible in managing my time and usage of them.

In “A Life Lived in Media,” the co-authors Mark Deuze, Peter Blank, and Laura Speers believe that we no longer live “with media, but in media.” My whole digital life project and research can detest to that because my whole experience is how media has become such an important part of my life. The three believe that media is invincible, creative, selective and social. In my journaling exercises and reflecting on my project as a whole, I would argue that media has made us build a relationship based off dependency with our devices, insecure, and lack certain interpersonal communication skills.

Media is invincible because of its accessibility to us. For example with my use, I always have my phone on me; it has almost become a part of me. Sometimes, I find it difficult to differentiate between my digital life and reality because I will relate things to online. Society’s language, which is always constantly changing, is taking in new slang words such as “hashtag,” “LOL,” or “YOLO”; all common words in the digital interface. When we integrate this online interface into our reality, we are linking ourselves to our devices so much that we begin to find it hard to live without. Our dependency on our devices also makes it difficult to differentiate between our online and offline lives. I, for one, almost always turn towards google for answers, a GPS to figure out how I am going to arrive to my final destination, a calculator on my phone to do simple math problems, and social networking sites for entertainment. Nicholas Carr in his article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” touches on this idea that the vastness of the Internet is actually causing us to not be able to focus as well as we used to. We are constantly surfing the web and multitasking. Carr talks about how we cannot sit down and read long novels now; he even goes as far as to argue that even a three to four paragraph blog post can seem too long. We skim rather than peruse now. Now a days, we turn towards Google and other search engines to answer our questions rather than checking out a book at the library or sitting down and reading through periodicals. We look for surface level information and lack the curiousness to actually dive deep down into a topic and explore it more.

Another incredible thing that technology and media has given us is the opportunity to be creative and to expand on other peoples’ works. Since the internet is so vast, we have the opportunity to find peoples’ ideas and creations from all over the world and we can interact with those peoples and their works. We can add our own twist to or reconstruct those ideas to make them our own — within reasons of copyright of course. One problem with media becoming creative is the age old question — what about the kids? Luckily, I have five younger siblings and got the opportunity to observe them while I was home on breaks. I wondered if our ability to always find distractions on our tablets, computers, and phones, which keep us from becoming bored has had any effect on our imaginations. I would argue that it is not that society is losing its imagination and creativity, but rather our creativity is changing into new ways. For example, when I was younger, I would build various things out of Legos. Now, my little siblings still play with Legos, the only difference is that their Legos are online in the form of the popular game, Mindcraft. My little sister Zoe still plays with dolls and talks to herself. I do not think digital media takes away our ability to create, but rather changes our ability to create.

Media is also selective in what you can see. For example, Google and Facebook have algorithms that only allow you to see certain things on your search results or your newsfeed, which is based off of the cookies they have collected on you from your digital life. Google and Facebook are two of the best in their industry, who have excelled at tailoring your digital experience to make it truly unique to yourself.

The selectivity of media is the idea of “mediatization of society” (Deuze, Speer, Blank, 2012). I touched on this process before. Mediatization of society is a progression “whereby society to an increasing degree is submitted to, or becomes dependent on the media and their logic” (Deuze, Speer, Blank, 2012).

We become so attached to our devices that we cannot imagine life without them. I cannot go anywhere without my cell phone. My phone is my safety net; it sort of shields my insecurities. I have realized in my journaling and this experience that I am concerned with how I appear to others in the online world. I am insecure in the sense that I worry about what people think of me and my accounts along with what people think about what I publish. I titled one of my journals called, “Like Me” and it was about my constant obsession with trying to get favorites and retweets on Twitter and likes on Instagram. Your twitter handle or Instagram name represents your brand in the digital world. For me personally, it is quite the process to post a picture on Instagram or to tweet. I will type something out, re-read it, edit it maybe two more times before posting and that is because I want to have a successful social media presents. I think the reason for this need to be successful on social media is because it is public and everyone can see it and it might sound extremely shallow, but it makes you feel better about yourself when your tweet or Instagram does well. It is a vicious cycle because it kind of helps you gain self-confidence because people like you (or they just like your picture or caption); but then at the same time, if you do not get the results you would have liked on a tweet or post, than you feel bad about yourself.

In today’s fast pace and instant society, there is also a communal insecurity of falling behind with the latest technology. There is a societal pressure that if you do not have the latest iPhone 6 or Android Galaxy, you are almost of date yourself. We live in a world where technology is upgrading faster than apps are updating. I still have an iPhone 5 so I am not that out of date, but before I had my current phone, everyone else already upgraded to the next best thing leaving me behind. I almost felt timid asking if anyone had an iPhone 4 charger because it made me feel like I was not as good as everyone else who had a iPhone 5’s and 6 pluses. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but I talked with my friends about this issue and my roommate Monica Narsolis said, “Technology can be viewed almost as a social status like especially with what phones and laptops people have in class . . . How often do you see someone with a Blackberry or flip phone or whatever in class?”

Which is a very valid point, but with all this technology upgrading all the time, what does that make society? Has technology made us a materialistic society?

In “Technology. Is it overtaking our lives?” Maria Guita believes that materialism and greed are interchangeable and we can trace back human greed all the way to ancient times. Today though, materialism and consumerism are becoming more and more indulged into society’s perception. With technology swiftly updating every day, it is hard for us to be content with whatever we have because there is always something better or a new and better upgrade. Guita uses the example of the rapid production of Apple iPhones. From 2007–2010, Apple released four versions of the iPhone. And now, you can buy the same iPhone, but with various varieties of that same iPhone.

If we try to keep up with the rapid improvement of technology, we will end up disappointed and broke. Besides, I almost think it is better not buying the next best thing because usually when something comes out, there are always bugs and things that need to be fixed.

I also feel as if I can hide behind my screen especially in public areas when I am surrounded by people I do not know. If I ever feel uncomfortable or out-of-place, I have this unbinding relationship with my phone where it will always be there for me. For some reason, I think that staring at my phone while I eat alone in the dining halls will make me seem more social (although in reality do I not look less social by staring at a brightened screen?). I have this indication that by looking at my screen, I am more connected to my friends online, but in reality, I am less connected to people who are sitting right in front of me.

Lastly, media is social and this kind of goes hand-and-hand with Dueze, Blank, and Speers’ ideas of media is selectivity. Our YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. accounts all represent who we are. There is an excess anxiety as to what we are posting and how we are presenting this post, how we want it to be interpreted and then realistically, how it is viewed within society. There is kind of a language barrier that is different on technology then it is in-person communication. Over texts and other mediums there is a different language filled with emoji’s, #hashtags, and abbreviations. Also, when using a device to communicate, you lack the person’s physical reactions to things you say/do. A person’s body language can say a lot about how someone feels about something you are saying and when you lose the ability to read someone’s posture or facial expression, then you become more distant to that person. Messages can also be misinterpreted from the way the person who delivered the message intended it to be. For example, sarcasm does not show well through text messaging. I also got the opportunity to experiment with Camtasia. This software allowed me to record not only my appearance through my computer’s webcam, but also what I was doing on my screen. After re-watching my recordings, I learned that when I type “LOL” or “haha” nine out of ten times my face is neutral and showing little to no emotion what so ever.

It is kind of ironic how media is social and keeps us in constant and immediate communication with people across the globe, but now more than ever people tend to struggle with making interpersonal relationships with peers and coworkers. Scientist, who study the psychology of technology use have found that people, mainly millennials are communicating more often with family and friends because of technology, “but the quality of that communication may be weaker,” (Johnson, 2014). The article goes on to discuss how people are losing the ability to connect with one another on an emotional level because communication through a mediums such as texts, e-mails, etc. lack the “emotive qualities” that in-person interactions have (Johnson).

In conclusion, I have come to turns with accepting my addiction and dependency on technology and my digital devices. This dependency affects the way I communicate and create interpersonal relationships with my friends and families because I only focus on surface level information rather than actually listening and comprehending things at a deeper level. I believe that the millennial generation spends a lot of time between both interfaces — the digital side and reality. We start to intertwine the two together into one and our digital use is becoming more and more prominent in our lives. Going into this project, I almost focused on my little siblings just because I was in denial about my technology use. I did not want to have to admit that I might use my devices a little too much. In the end, I think this project was very beneficial for me. I have learned that we are no longer working parallel with media and technology; we are working in it. We are making it a part of our everyday lives. Throughout this project, I created a better understanding of what my digital life means to me. I have learned the harmfulness of our technology use and the disadvantages of multitasking. In the future, I will attempt to put more effort into restricting my technology, but as of now, it will take a long time for me to get out of the habit of checking my phone or social networking websites without even thinking about it.

Cited Sources:

Kleiman, J. (2014, January 14). How Multitasking Hurts Your Brain (and Your Effectiveness at Work). Retrieved April 17, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2013/01/15/how-multitasking-hurts-your-brain-and-your-effectiveness-at-work/

Levitin, D. (2015, January 18). Why the modern world is bad for your brain. Retrieved April 16, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jan/18/modern-world-bad-for-brain-daniel-j-levitin-organized-mind-information-overload

Sullivan, B., & Thompson, H. (2013, May 4). Brain, Interrupted. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/opinion/sunday/a-focus-on-distraction.html?_r=2

Smartphones Can Cause Insomnia: Harvard. (2014, January 7). Retrieved April 16, 2015, from http://www.newsmax.com/Health/Health-News/insomnia-smartphone-harvard-sleep/2014/01/07/id/545742/

Deuze, M., Blank, P., & Speers, L. (2012, June 1). A Life Lived in Media. Retrieved April 16, 2015, from http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/6/1/000110/000110.html

Giunta, M. (n.d.). Technology. Is it Overtaking Our Lives? Retrieved April 15, 2015, from http://mpgnarratives.hubpages.com/hub/Materialism-Are-We-Going-Too-Far-With-All-Our-Gadgets

Carr, N. (2008, July 1). Is Google Making Us Stupid? Retrieved April 15, 2015, from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/

Johnson, C. (2014, August 29). Face time vs. screen time: The technological impact on communication. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://national.deseretnews.com/article/2235/face-time-vs-screen-time-the-technological-impact-on-communication.html

Hiscott, R. (2014, July 29). 8 Ways Technology Makes You Stupid. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/25/technology-intelligence_n_5617181.html

If for some reason you can’t reach my online journal in the embedded link, try here: C:\Temp\Temp1_MyDigitalLife-BrainDumps(1).zip\MyDigitalLifeBrainDumps.html

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