As Americans in the 21st century, we must question what technology is doing to our personal, social and intellectual lives. What is it doing to your identity? What is it doing to your sleeping patterns? What is it doing to your soul? What is it doing to your friendships? Is it effecting our ability to be a happy, free person?
Such questions can be dismissed as alarmist or the fears of a crazy ranting relative. But the reality is that answering these questions matter in 2018. Thankfully there is one group of journalists who are have worked hard to consistently tackle questions related to technology.
Should you start lamenting that there is no hope longer any hope for thoughtful, objective American journalism? No, not today because the Atlantic Monthly exists. They offer in depth, researched articles (sometimes editorial length at 1,000 words, sometimes 3,000 word long-form articles) that tackle questions about technology’s impact on society.
Technology is one of category that does not get criticized openly and consistently by the media. Why? Because the way in which we receive information in the 21st century if largely through a screen. There’s the Netflix screen, the PC Screen and the IPhone screen. Therefore, there is a certain hesitation to question the health benefits of watching Netflix for 4 hours a day because that disrupts the health of the “economic health” of Netflix. Questioning “the screen” means companies will lose money. Therefore, many of the companies that are producing media for the internet, Netflix or cable television have a tendency to ignore anyone questioning their medium. This is what some have called a “technological bias.” An intentional habit of ignoring the potential harmful effects facts about what an IPhone, Youtube channel or cable television network does to its viewers.
This is one reason I think those who work for the Atlantic Monthly are able to be such open skeptics of technology. Since I started reading the magazine 7 years ago, I’ve seen how the Atlantic Monthly has less of a technological bias as the other mediums I’ve listed above. Paying readers of this magazine (which was started over 160 years ago) allows the magazine to hire top-notch journalists and writers to do stories on what technology does to people.
I would like to share some of the “skeptical of technology” articles below. In order to understand what it means to be human in the 21st century, we must ask hard questions about the power that technology has over people. Here are examples of what Atlantic Monthly does best long-form journalism:
Central Question: What is the internet doing to our reading habits?
Key quote from article:
“And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
Carr’s attack is essentially arguing that the internet changes the way our brains read words. We are becoming skimmers more than deep readers. Carr, a writer, admits (over 10 years ago) that his ability to read long books has been changed because he spends so much time multi-tasking on his PC. This article aligns itself with the growing suspicion that multi-tasking is more productive than rapt attention on one task.
Central Question: Is social media helping cure the loneliness problem?
Key Quote from Article:
“But it is clear that social interaction matters. Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years. In one survey, the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant. In the face of this social disintegration, we have essentially hired an army of replacement confidants, an entire class of professional careers.”
Marche argues that Facebook came along at the perfect time in our time when loneliness was growing. The article doesn’t totally confirm that Facebook is the cause of loneliness, but the social media craze is more of an indicator of a growing loneliness problem that already existed. Marche says “Facebook arrive in middle of a dramatic increase in the quality and intensity of human loneliness, a rise that initially made the site’s promise of greater connection seem deeply attractive.” Marche’s conclusion is not exactly for you deactivate or delete your account. He’s wanting us to look at what desperate need for friendship is out there. Rather, he seems to suggest that we should seek out more satisfying solutions. And ask: Why are so many people lonely in modern life? What can we do about it?
Central questions: What long term effect will IPads have on the social and intellectual lives of children today? Will this help the development of my children?
Key quote from article:
“Technological competence and sophistication have not, for parents, translated into comfort and ease. They have merely created yet another sphere that parents feel they have to navigate in exactly the right way. On the one hand, parents want their children to swim expertly in the digital stream that they will have to navigate all their lives; on the other hand, they fear that too much digital media, too early, will sink them. Parents end up treating tablets like precision surgical instruments, gadgets that might perform miracles for their child’s IQ and help him win some nifty robotics competition—but only if they are used just so. Otherwise, their child could end up one of those sad, pale creatures who can’t make eye contact and has an avatar for a girlfriend.”
As a part of her research for this article, writer Hannah Rosin attends an educational app conference (attended by tech developers) in hopes that the set of parents attending this conference might help her understand how to answer hard questions about children and technology. She wound up finding out that many of the parents who develop the “educational apps” themselves have strict guidelines on how much their own kids have “screen time.” Some don’t allow their kids to use an IPad. Always objective, Rosin goes on to have an in-depth look at the serious questions of parents who are trying to survive as a parent(allowing their children time with an IPad so they can have a dinner conversation) yet also setting guidelines to prevent their child from having a social handicap in 2030.
Central Question: Is the Smart Phone causing young Millennials and Gen Z (born 1995 and 2012) to struggle making friendships?
“The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.”
Twenge is one of America’s leading experts on generational studies. One of the strengths of the
Atlantic Monthly is that they will give a professor of psychology, such as Twenge space to write about her topic. She’s one of the people who create terms such as “Millennial” and “Generation X.” For her to a 4,800 word article with concrete facts and charts on how there is a connection between the SmartPhone and teen depression and suicide means we need to pay attention. The most striking part of this article, to me, was that teenagers are partying less with personal independence seeming less appealing. Twenge observes “The shift is stunning: 12th graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.” Twenge also observes that this is a common trend among many demographics: the smart kids, the jocks, the A students, C students, the poor and the rich kids.
Sadly, this article was not on the cover of the September 2017 issue. After an election year, it seems that political anxiety (This issue had a story called “How America Went Haywire”) is more urgent than anxiety about the fate of a generation. The Atlantic Monthly is typically avoids letting political anxiety dominate what they choose to put on their magazine cover. However, Twenge’s observations deserved a cover story.