So here are some details, just to prepare you for summer, as recounted by author Michael Harris. In 2012, we were asking Google questions over a trillion times a year. Six years later that number has almost doubled. At the same time, we were “liking” something on Facebook 4.5 billion times a day. We were also uploading to You Tube some 100 hours of video for every minute of real-time. Collectively, we also posted over 600 photos on Instagram every second.
In just the last few years, our use of the Internet has exploded 565 per cent. Such usage dwarfs the revolutions brought about by the printing press, maps, and the scientific discoveries of earlier ages.
Kaiser Foundation found that kids eight-to-eighteen years old were spending over seven hours a day on their digital devices. That was back in 2010 and their dependency must only be greater today, almost a decade later. The reality has become the curse of all parents and guardians seeking to take their kids away for summer holidays. The need for wi-fi is paramount in the priorities of the young and they simply can’t live without it. Our desire to “get away” from such 24/7 connectivity doesn’t necessarily translate to the next generation.
Such dependency can even alter the underlying brain structure. Virtually everyone we know carries with them a small device that not only brings a world of information to them but slants and transforms how their brains work in the process. Marshall McLuhan understood this propensity long before most observers. In his Understanding Media,he noted that, “a new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace.”
That’s important as we journey out into the summer months in pursuit of something other than the rat race that has become part and parcel of modern living. Most of us are desperately seeking a way to step off the fast escalator long enough to capture something deeper, something more paced in life, and we’ll use the summer season, with its sun, holidays, relaxation and overall slower rhythm of life to reach for it.
Face it, we love our technologies and all they bring to us. But we are catching on that they are not really taking us to those places in life, both internally and externally, that we crave. They aren’t good or bad in themselves, but they are tempting and fool us into thinking they are necessary – numerous times each day.
We are rapidly reaching that point in our relationships with modern digital technologies that we are see more clearly that they aren’t giving us the good life. We are shocked when we finally realize that all our politics, much of our community life, even our personal and collective struggles, are driven, and at times limited by, all that information we receive each day. For all of that data, we are growing farther away from world peace, environmental sustainability, and political and social accord than ever. All that technology seems to drive us further into mass confusion and dysfunction. There is that creeping acknowledgment growing within us that if our situation worsens, it won’t be due to a lack of information but perhaps too much of it that in the end only perplexed us instead of liberating our spirits and minds.
I have heard repeatedly in recent weeks that people want to work on “unplugging” this summer, and they are serious about it. But it isn’t easy, especially when kids are part of the equation. Yet we must accomplish it if we are to get back in touch with our inner selves, with the rhythms of life and grow comfortable in our own skins once more. We have grown fascinated with our technologies and all the marvellous information they bring to us. But after a time we experience “information glut” and we face the inevitable desire to simplify our lives, to reorient our brains and thoughts to things the matter. All that new information won’t help us if we can’t build on the historic insights that teach us more about ourselves and the world around us. We need to use this summer to “disconnect” in order to “reconnect” with those priorities that better shape our character and build a better world.