“I Used to Be a Human Being”

The 2010 book You Are Not a Gadget warns of the unintended consequences of our headlong rush into a 24/7 social media life. 6 years later the warnings appear justified.

Andrew Sullivan has written an interesting piece in New York Magazine titled “I Used to Be a Human Being.” Perhaps his situation is more extreme than some, perhaps not. Each of us should take an honest look in the mirror and wonder to the extent screen time has helped or hindered our development as human beings. Here’s a short snippet from Sullivan’s piece:

By the last few months, I realized I had been engaging — like most addicts — in a form of denial. I’d long treated my online life as a supplement to my real life, an add-on, as it were. Yes, I spent many hours communicating with others as a disembodied voice, but my real life and body were still here.

But then I began to realize, as my health and happiness deteriorated, that this was not a both-and kind of situation. It was either-or. Every hour I spent online was not spent in the physical world. Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter.

Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality. “Multitasking” was a mirage. This was a zero-sum question. I either lived as a voice online or I lived as a human being in the world that humans had lived in since the beginning of time.

And so I decided, after 15 years, to live in reality.

Just look around you — at the people crouched over their phones as they walk the streets, or drive their cars, or walk their dogs, or play with their children. Observe yourself in line for coffee, or in a quick work break, or driving, or even just going to the bathroom. Visit an airport and see the sea of craned necks and dead eyes. We have gone from looking up and around to constantly looking down.

If an alien had visited America just five years ago, then returned today, wouldn’t this be its immediate observation? That this species has developed an extraordinary new habit — and, everywhere you look, lives constantly in its thrall?

The delicious irony is that I am sitting in front of a screen typing this blog and then clicking “publish” to push it to a bunch of other screens.