Healthy Technology Habits

Editor in Chief

In a March 23 New York Times piece titled, “Your Phone vs. Your Heart,” Barbara L. Fredrickson talks about the physical and social deterioration that accompanies a generation connected more to technology than people.  Fredrickson is a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“Our ingrained habits change us,” writes Fredrickson.  “Neurons that fire together, wire together, neuroscientists like to say…Any habit molds the very structure of your brain in ways that strengthen your proclivity for that habit.”

These habits that form pathways in the brain also form the way we connect with one another, argues Fredrickson.  On top of that, the research Fredrickson was involved in also worked to prove that physical, social interaction is necessary for maintaining a healthy vagal tone.

Vagal tone, according to Fredrickson, is used to determine overall body health, and has been shown to be “central to things like facial expressivity and the ability to tune in to the frequency of the human voice.”  So a healthy vagal tone, she explains, facilitates easier social connections.

But we hit a wall of trouble: if a healthier vagal tone requires social interaction, and it is what promotes healthy interactions, what happens to the people who connect with one another without being physically near?  Her study and article both hint at the troubles of a generation interacting over lit screens with little actual interaction.

To take it a step further, what about ESU? I have watched students text during entire class periods, seemingly unaware of their environments.  Students even bring laptops and netbooks to classes, and then they spend the period on Facebook and Twitter. Maybe others have experienced the near crash caused by neglectful students texting in the hallways of Stroud.  I know plenty of times people texting and turning corners has nearly caused a three-student pile-up.

Part of the trouble might link back to the arguments from neuroscience and forming habits deeply.  We are the generation that has grown up with the internet, so why should it have stopped surrounding us when we hit adulthood?

As well, the university now offers dozens of distance education courses for commuter students a little farther out than usual.  The physical presence in education is falling away bit-by-bit as students Google search paper ideas and watch videos of lectures.  At once, it is no longer necessary to leave the comfort and safety of a bedroom to get certain degrees.  With this increasing luxury comes the deterioration of people skills, and in a world where resumes are stacked and scrutinized for the ability to communicate, it seems strange to let social experience fall to the wayside.

Still, we all text conversations throughout the day until it becomes second-nature to check for new messages.  Students and professors alike find themselves checking status updates and comments on Facebook pages.  Even President Welsh has a constantly updated Twitter.

So what price do we pay for continuous communication?  Is it our vascular health, our ability to form community, or is it our humanity?  With the ability to almost immediately publish any vague thought for all of our virtual friends to see, the value of language itself seems to diminish.

Those moments before a professor starts class that might be used to read over content our talk with classmates has fallen to texting a friend far away.  Rather than go to the library and read through some collections of essays, students search the internet for free content published by faceless, anonymous sources.  In the end of all of this, we end up physically unhealthy, socially inept and overly-reliant on devices that could very well fail us one day.

The answer is not to abandon all of these interfaces; in fact, they are useful and important to future progress.  Facebook allows distantly family to easily keep up with each other, texting allows quick messages to pass between us.  These things that connect us, or at least have the large ability to connect us, have begun to separate people.  Here we ignore the twenty students in seats around us while texting our few, distant friends.

What kind of full conversation can be held in a silent room?  Raise your eyes, use your voice, and listen to the immediate world.

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