The Power to Create

The final assignment for my Media, Culture, and Technology class was to create a digital story that chronicled my interaction with a technology of my choice. A small description of my project can be found here. By documenting how I reacted to the various books I read this semester, I came to understand how technology as a whole affects my life and discovered what makes me so addicted to technology.

I’ve been a literature lover my entire life. I read whatever I can get my hands on and I have always had a tendency to become too emotionally attached to the books I read. I laugh and cry with the characters and when I turn the last page of the book, I often look up in shock as I realize that everyone else in this world were going about their normal lives. It wasn’t until taking this class, and doing this project, that I realized how much I actually depended on these books.

Most people my age are becoming more and more dependent (some would say addicted) to more modern technologies like the internet, social media, and video games (Sura, 2012; Herzfeld, 2011; Mandell, 2007; Parker-Pope, 2010; Fader, 2013). Since I am not “addicted” to any of these things (my parents may disagree) I chose to analyze my relationship through a medium that has had a dramatic impact on my life. I started this semester with 30 required readings for my various classes.

My stack of books this semester.

My stack of books this semester.

Starting with book number 12, Dave Egger’s The Circle, I kept tabs on how I engaged with the literature. I read a wide variety of books–non-fiction, classic literature, short stories–but my reaction to all of them before this project was the same. I became so engrossed in the worlds of the books that, at times, I was actually living vicariously through the fictional characters.

Once I started to really pay attention to how I reacted to these books, however, I read less and less until eventually, I wasn’t reading at all. Before this semester, there were only two books I didn’t finish throughout my entire student career. Now, there are four books I never even started and two more books I didn’t finish. I was so afraid of immersing myself too deep in these narratives that I chose to not engage them at all. For the first time in my life, I was afraid to read. This made me nervous, negative, and overall less productive in all other areas of my life because I was forced to face the reality of the real world without any means of escape or comfort.

As Sura suggests in her Huffington Post article “Technology Addiction” (2012), it is the very notion of escaping, of separating ourselves from everyone else that causes most people to become “addicted” to technology. Although I was moody and unhappy in those few days I went without books, I did notice that I was spending much more time with people in the real world. I was enhancing real relationships rather than wishing I was friends with characters in a book. As some critics suggest, our growing dependence on technology is making our real world relationships suffer (Rheingold, 2012; Sura, 2012) and until I did this project I didn’t realize how much I was missing out on in the real world while I created worlds of my own through my books.

It was this epiphany that gave me the answer to the “what makes technology so addictive?” question. When I read a book, I can create hundreds of different worlds without ever leaving the comfort of my dorm room. Movie watchers do the same thing as they sit in the theater eating popcorn. Gamers do it when they sit on the couch and play their favorite game for hours on end. This is what makes technology so amazing–the idea that we can be whoever and wherever we want whenever we want. All of these technologies allow users to become completely immersed in worlds they help create–making technology not only addictive, but the modern drug of choice.

Works cited:

Sura (2010). “Addicted to Technology.” The Huffington Post. Web.

Herzfeld, Ronit (2011). “Unplug and Recharge: Are You Living in a Techno-Daze?” The Huffington Post. Web.

Mandell, Jonathan (2007). “Are Gadgets, and the Internet, Actually Addictive?” CNN.com. Web.

Parker-Pope, Tara (2010). “An Ugly Toll of Technology: Impatience and Forgetfulness.” The New York Times. Web.

Fader, Jonathan (2013). “Are You Addicted to Your Phone? Change Technology Addiction.” Psychology Today. Web.

Rheingold, Howard (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Print.

The End of the World

OK, not really. Just the end of the semester. But when I look back on everything I learned in my Media, Culture, and Technology class, it certainly does feel like the end of one kind of world. I started this class, and this semester, as an optimistic and hopeful user of media and technology. After reading many books and articles, watching countless videos, and extensively talking about technology for the past 4 months, however, I have changed into a critical and somewhat skeptical technology user; and this makes me proud.

I started to feel this change very early in the semester, and pointed it out in my post Internet Misconceptions, which I wrote after starting Curran, Fenton, and Freedman’s book. As I mention in this post, I was naive to think that the Internet was a legitimate and effective way of encouraging democracy. After reading Dave Egger’s The Circle (which I discuss here and here), I quickly learned that when in the wrong hands, technology can hinder democracy, even when it looks like it is helping it. This has made me rethink what it means to be an active participant in our society. Instead of sharing a video, liking a status, or signing an online petition, I’ve learned that the best way to make change is to turn off my computer and cell phone and get out in the world. We live in a culture that constantly encourages us to be active participants–and staring at a screen is not the way to take advantage of that.

ohsu.edu

ohsu.edu

This class has also taught me how important it is to check facts and sources before sharing or believing them. While I usually did this before this class, after conducting our CRAP detection survey, I discovered that I am in the minority of my fellow students. Some students do try to fact check the information they get, but not many of them do this at the level they should be. As Howard Rheingold suggests in his book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, the best way to verify data is to triangulate it–verifying it through three other sources before sharing or using it. I’ve learned that this really is the best way to ensure you are using accurate and recent information.

Perhaps the most important thing this class has taught me, however, is how I interact with technology on a personal level. I’ve learned that I become engrossed in technology not because of the connections they give or the distractions they make or even because they are new and exciting. The most fascinating thing about technology, to me, are the worlds we can create when we use it. This is the issue I am taking up in my digital story, specifically with regard to books–the most important form of technology in my life. By analyzing how I engage with technology, I hope that I can become an even more intelligent and critical user of it.

As this semester draws to close, I look back and think about all I have learned in this class and I am overwhelmed. I’ve learned that technology could potentially take over democracy. That our generation is passively living in a culture that begs for active participation. That everything you read on the Internet (and anywhere else) is not always true. That technology can be used to manipulate children. And, most importantly, that technology is everywhere and we need to be careful with how we use it.