Blurring The Lines of Physical and Virtual

 I was recently struck by the behaviour of a young boy on the street. He was running around stepping on manhole covers and yellow hose covers in the street – seemingly oblivious to others around him. His father apologised for his behaviour saying: ‘He’s just trying to get his bonus.’ ‘Sorry? How do you mean?’ I asked.

‘Well he’s playing a video game and he has to step on these things so that he can get the bonus and win the game’

‘Do you give him this bonus?’

‘No, it’s all up here’ he explained as he pointed to his head.

His son, still oblivious was walking and looking with such urgency that I had to stop for a second and think, how much fun is actually being had achieving this bonus?

And yet, he is a young boy playing a game. What’s the harm in that?

There is a side of me that agrees with that. Computer games are engrained into the youth and so it does seem feasible that the child would play out a fictional world in the same way children from my generation would dress up as a cowboy for example – essentially living out their fantasies of a role using their imagination and toy props in a healthy way.

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This game the child was playing however seemed to be a little different. The obliviousness to others around him, the frantic looking and finding of items on the floor in order to get a ‘bonus’ in his head. It seemed more like a need to do it rather than a want. I couldn’t help but see this behaviour in parallel to how we all check our phones or check our emails. Are we checking because we feel we need to or want to? Or are need and want so intertwined in our society that many of us can no longer tell the difference? Is the ‘bonus’ the boy is seeking that of a dopamine hit many of us are becoming accustomed to? If so, what is the effect of being brought up with this kind of stimulus from a young age?

Returning to the parallel I see with many of us and our phones, is most much of our phone usage a want or a need?  Is our phone used as a hobby or has the fun aspect turned into a need or in fact an addiction?

Hobby or addiction?

 Dr. Linda L. Simmons says that:  a hobby turns into an addiction when it impacts your life in a negative way.

So is technology impacting negatively on us and society? I am speaking in general terms as there are so many avenues to explore. Technology has had a very positive impact on us and I’ve grown up with television, but I’ve not found it turn from a hobby into an addiction.

 

We do hear of people spending hours a day in front of the television but it has come to my attention that many people seem to be developing an unhealthy relationship with mobile technology, games and social media. I would even go so far as to argue that what many of us see as normal technology usage is in fact, excessive; so much so that we are spending less time together – for example having less sex (arguably the most physical connective act) in favour of playing with their smart phones or tablets.

To play Devil’s Advocate I am sure many of us have watched TV instead of sex (box set anyone?) So what’s the difference and why are these types of technology having more of an impact on us according to studies?

What has caused the change?

I see two reasons:

1: Prof Kaye Wellings says that “People [are] taking laptops to bed, iPads, the fact work comes into our home now – there’s no strict divide.”

To me it seems that it is our tablets or mobiles and in turn, apps and social media have become extensions of us. The lines are being blurred in terms of the physical and virtual, so we find it harder to switch off and be in just one of those worlds.

So if we were to switch the virtual world off what would happen?

An interesting study on the matter featured on the telegraph website called: The World Unplugged  which  saw how students without technology for 24 hours would react. What the found was that the students would open cupboards to look inside in the same way they would check websites  and phones when they were bored.

I would argue they were trying to gain the same satisfaction that they got from checking their technological devices in the real world. The Telegraph article even likened the addictive nature of technology usage to that of drug addiction.

(see also my blog post on my experience of 3 days of no social media and mobile phone)

 

2: The newer technological mediums are interactive; whereas the older ones are passive (such as television). This gives us a different level of connectivity than we are used to and is why many film and TV companies are looking to incorporate social media and tablets (the second screen) into television. It gives the audience a much greater connectivity than has been experienced previously. We are not only getting the relaxing passive sensation but also the stimulus of the interactive element. This further engrosses us in the experience which is not from our lived experience of the event, but the experience of interacting with others through technology.

Conclusion:

To return back to the topic of hobby and addiction I can see that the way we have accepted and integrated technology has seen it change from a fun hobby to a needy addiction. We need our smart phones with us wherever we go and are changing where we seek validation, not from lived physical experiences but sought through our virtual selves; this in turn is changing the way we relate to each other physically.

To return back to the boy at the beginning, it gave me a frightening image of the development of children today, with technology so integrated into their lives they seek satisfaction in the physical world through the reward structure received in the virtual world. Can you blame them? Games are a fantastic way to pass the time, with many giving us validation, a sense of omnipotence, reward and community which is harder to achieve in the less structured physical world.

I would be extremely grateful to know what your thoughts are on this matter looking at your own usage of technology.

Philip Karahassan