Attention Deficit Disorder & Technology

Today, technology has made it easier than ever to do, know, find, experience basically anything. We are constantly connected to some technology, either consuming or creating information. This constant connection and easier access to information has been mostly positive--affording greater opportunities for education, health, societal well-being (such as crime prevention), entrepreneurship, relationships, etc. However, technology has also negatively impacted our social, emotional, intellectual, and even physical well-being . Technology is making it harder for our brains to focus on what matters, to keep up with and process information the way our brains were meant to process information. Technology seems to be conditioning us to having attention deficit disorder, loosely speaking.

Constant notifications yearning for our attention and action, endless possibilities of trajectories to explore on the internet, millions of people with billions of ideas, opinions, 'truths', etc, are all a few click/taps away. It has indeed become harder than ever to stay focused, to pay attention, to stay on task. Multi-tasking is the new norm. We are restless. We are busy. We are unproductive. We are anxious. We are curious. We lack control. In addition to the inability to pay attention and stay on task, let's reference one of the 'medical' symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)-- "paying too much attention to too many things and details to a point where one loses the ability to focus and pay attention to the task at hand." Google it. Your brain is great at filtering out thousands, if not millions of bits of information you encounter on a daily basis and therefore allowing you to internalize, remember, experience only a focused set at a given moment. This is a fundamental part of cognition. Otherwise you would go, well, crazy. 

The next like. The next view. The next text message. Turning users into addicts, and believe it or not, corporations benefit from your addiction (in billions of dollars at times). That's a different topic by itself. Do realize that there is a threshold where constant yearning for digital attention and connection depletes you. Instead you, the user, remain lacking the attention power you need to be a productive, intellectually, emotionally healthy member of whichever group of society you are interacting in at a given moment.

Technology for the future should be "Calm Technology". Technology that allows us to accomplish tasks. Technology that allows us to connect with people more meaningfully, and not necessarily "signaling" technology as Don Norman calls it (one way communication). Technology that understand the barriers and existing constructs of the human condition and human need, and designs for this. Technology that fits into our lives, augments without distracting.

Obsession with the meaningless

Facebook recently acquired Instagram for $1 billion in cash and stock. To make a long story short, I think that's amazing. However, the obsession with the purchase is sickening. I enjoy reading tech news but looking at some of the top tech news lately, I am realizing how obsessed the Western culture is with technology, the web, and mobile apps.

Yes, if you are in the tech industry, the Instagram purchase is an interesting piece of news. But what does it say about our values when our top news sources place this much importance on this little cool billion dollar app, and continue to do so days later after the purchase. Does Instagram really deserve days of media coverage by some of our top news sources including the Washington Post, Mashable, CNN, Reuters, New York Times, and dozens of other smaller tech news sources?

I do not want to play the grinch here, but I am not surpised with the media attention Instagram has received and this obsession is pervasive throughout our society. Tools that are meant to "improve" our lives and enhance our experiences of everyday life have become our greatest problems. From mobile device usage while driving (which results in thousands of deaths a year in the U.S. alone) to skewed priorities and mismanagement of time due to the narcistic overusage of online social networking, it is becoming more evident that the value we place on different technologies, in the long run will determine the effects these technologies have on us. 

If you want to make a difference in the world, it's about time to quit obsessing over the meaningless. Technology is a powerful tool and has indubitably impacted life to varying degrees. But I hardly doubt that Instagram and/or Facebook is going to help curb the effects of poverty at home and abroad, war in third world countries, homelessness, social and political reform, education, etc. And individuals' obsession with Instagram, Facebook, and similar tools will definitely not contribute to personal growth and productivity. If anything, these tools can be the bane of our existence.

All I am saying is: there are deeper and more meaningful ways with which technology can impact the world around us. Instagram is necessarily not one of them. Let us not get caught up in the "frenzy", the hype, the next gadget, the next app, the next tech or fashion trend . Don't allow yourself to be simply the consumer, constantly being fed by all the junk companies throw at you. Prioritize your usage of technology, mobile devices, apps, social networking and etc; and strive to be the producer of greater ideas and not solely the consumer of others' ideas.