Me, Myself and (the) I-nternet: A Painful Relationship
“Its phenomenal how the same technology that brings us close to those who are far away, takes us far away from the people that are actually close”- Jay Shetty
I began my research for this post with reading RachE’s digisoc3 submission, and found myself compelled by the above quote from motivational philosopher Jay Shetty. Themes of relationships, the individual, communication and connection were conjured up, which helpfully reminded me of session E on The Individual. Much of my prior awareness and interest in the digital world surrounded the individual, not least because I study Psychology. So it seemed fitting to round off my time on the course exploring these themes.
Gaining or losing connection?
Wi-Fi hotspots, 4G mobile data, social media, you name it, there’s connection to life online everywhere we go, be it for business or pleasure. No longer is it necessary to sit behind a desktop PC with a fixed-line connection. We can now navigate the internet at break-neck speed and we impatiently expect it. It’s easy to forget how far along today’s internet connectivity has come along. I was quite entertained by the online tool http://oldweb.today/ mentioned in an earlier session of the course which allows you to surf ‘the internet of the past’ and relive it’s changing face and speed of connection by tweaking the access date and web site.
Statista reports Facebook as the first social network to surpass 1 billion registered accounts and currently has 2.2 billion monthly active users, accounting for almost 50% of internet users worldwide. With this many people online, connected and communicating, you’d think they had it all …
At a surface level, you’d think we had it all. But in fact, echoing Jay Shetty’s quote from earlier, Banksy’s ‘Mobile Lovers’ exemplifies perfectly how the new digital society is putting a strain not only on the individual, but also the relationships we share with those close to us. It is then not surprising that the technology we use to feel ‘connected’ with others seems to be having a negative impact on mental health, especially in young people. An RSPH study found that photo-sharing platform Instagram ranked the worst in terms of issues such as anxiety, depression, body image and ‘fear of missing out’ amongst young people. In a bid to change this, a Danish study found that encouraging regular Facebook users to quit for a week reported greater life satisfaction at the end of the week.
Not all doom and gloom
Having a Psychology background made me realise perhaps my perspective is somewhat biased toward the negative impacts of technology on the individual and mental health. I did some further exploration and came across 100TB.com’s Medium post on how technology can improve mental health. They mention work at Oxford University that has seen promising results for VR headsets being used to treat mental health conditions such as PTSD and delusions, and have also seen positive results in trials of phobia and paranoia. It works by encouraging patients to explore virtual scenarios they might not be able to in real life, and these results have been consistent with many studies in the field. Bearing this in mind, it is important to consider that this ought not to be a replacement for usual therapy but rather act as a complement.
To the digital divide, and beyond
Whilst Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear was always concerned with going ‘to infinity and beyond’, today begs the question what is beyond the age of the digital divide?
I recall a conversation with my grandmother recently in which I asked her what has changed the most in her lifetime, to which she replied ‘Definitely communication’. Now, my grandmother is a bit of an anomaly in that she’s pretty adept at sending a WhatsApp message to myself or another family member across the world, even more so than my own mother. But today more than ever there is an imbalance of digital skills, particularly amongst elderly demographics. It is promising however to see that in this two-year study conducted with elderly people, it was found that whilst they did perceive this divide, they seemed to positively rate encouragement of ICT use and were making attempts to adopt various forms of technology in order to become more integrated into modern society. However when you observe the feeling of content on the elderly lady’s face below amongst the digitally-hungry crowd, you can’t help but think, are they missing something in their experience that this lady is getting without the need for technology to dictate a special moment?
Expanding on from that, I hadn’t even considered this until I read this Medium post, but it highlights how the digital divide also affects low-income families and black populations from disadvantaged backgrounds significantly. Not only has it become a requirement to have basic digital skills in many jobs, it is having internet access in the first place, for example to search for housing or jobs that sets people apart in the digital divide. Sadly, some of these communities are falling at the first hurdle. As a result, lack of internet access can be considered both a result of and a contribution to the poverty cycle as these authors note.
Reflection- Growing up with the Digital Society
My pre-existing intrigue, excitement and equal scepticism and concern for the digital world initially attracted me to doing this module. As a fellow ‘digital native’ of my generation I have a close relationship with technology and it is something I know I cannot hide from. So in a bid to address the anxieties and questions that I constantly have spilling around in my head regarding technology (albeit simultaneously being engrossed in my screens) I was ready to explore the course themes.
Besides wanting to challenge my own perceptions of the digital society, the biggest challenge I faced on the course involved knowing how to critically analysis content for an online platform as well as understanding copyright rules and how to appropriately attribute images. I was met with some surprise by my feedback from the digisoc 1 and 2 assessments, as I did not expect to be as lacking in using these skills as I seemed to be. I felt quite disheartened by this initially but realised that I ought to use this as an opportunity to learn and research how to develop these skills. The resources on the Medium page, in particular on attributing images online served to be especially useful. As a result, I now feel more confident in these skills and hope that it is evident in this digisoc 3 blog post. I’m very grateful for having developed an increased awareness of copyright and image use online and I will now look to directly employ this skill more accurately on another website that I currently publish and edit articles on, which in hindsight I realise myself and other writers on the platform are not always doing. Despite these challenges I really enjoyed being able to harness a more journalistic and conversational style of writing when blogging and the allowance for more creative and interactive writing, which I otherwise don’t get to do academically outside this module.
As mentioned, even though I didn’t achieve the mark I desired on the digisoc 2 assignment, I really valued the experience that came with being exposed to the PechaKucha presentation format. I had never heard of it before, so it was a completely new way of presenting information to me. At first I was somewhat concerned how I’d be able to fit in the most valuable information on my chosen topic as concisely and to-the-point as the presentation style demands, especially since academically I struggle with being concise, so this stretched my ability to do so in a new way.
Course themes that stood out in particular to me were those on The Individual. As a psychology student, I was naturally intrigued by the impact between technology and the individual and hence why I chose to focus this post on it. I found the social profile checking tool and Facebook usage report activities interesting. It was relieving that both tools met my expectation of what personal information was easily found online about me (not much) and how I used Facebook (I seem to be quite a passive user), which confirmed that I had used my acute awareness of privacy and personal data issues appropriately to ensure account settings were protecting me online.
Overall my knowledge and understanding of the digital society as well as my critical analysis skills have been positively stretched. I think this success is largely down to the interactive discussions, group work and activities facilitated by the course conveners, so a special thanks to the Library Team who have overseen it. The course has made me recognise the ubiquitous importance of technology in our modern lives but has also made me come to terms with the fact that whilst I cannot do away with technology I will always have the personal choice in how I allow technology to manifest itself in my life.