“We Never Look Up”: what our iLife and iThings mean for our shared humanity

This Tumblr We Never Look Up tracks how technology makes people less present in whatever physical space they’re in.

This study says people who use their phones heaps are more likely to be self-indulged, self-seeking, and racist.

“A new study showed that young adults who text more than 100 times a day tend to be more interested in wealth, vanity and less so in leading a virtuous life.

Led by psychology professors Paul Trapnell and Lisa Sinclair, the University of Winnipeg study suggested that students who text that much are 30 percent less likely to value living an “ethical, principled life,” compared to those who texted 50 times or less a day. The study also showed that heavy texters exhibited higher levels of ethnic prejudice.

Researcher gleaned their findings from 2,300 freshman psychology students who took online surveys about their goals in life, personality traits and how much they texted. Around 30 percent reported texting 200 or more times a day, while 12 percent indicated they texted more than 300 times a day.”

And this technological evolution is potentially rewiring our brains. That study says people are becoming, like, more superficial and stuff.

“The study aimed to test the “shallowing hypothesis” that Nicholas Carr discusses in his book “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.” The hypothesis suggests that relentless texters and heavy users of Twitter are more superficial because the platforms encourage rapid and brief interactions that promote shallow thought.

“The values and traits most closely associated with texting frequency are surprisingly consistent with Carr’s conjecture that new information and social media technologies may be displacing and discouraging reflective thought.”

There’s another book that says we’re all, well, at least the males of the species, becoming man-children because of these changes.

“This new kind of addictive arousal traps users into an expanded present hedonistic time zone. Past and future are distant and remote, as the present moment expands to dominate everything. And that present is totally dynamic, with images changing constantly. Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way to demand change, novelty, excitement and constant stimulation.”

This is mostly due to porn – which does terrible and damaging things to the brain – but the writer of the book quoted in this blog post, also points the finger at the dreaded spectre of video games.

“That means they are becoming totally out of sync in traditional school classes, which are analog, static and interactively passive. Academics are based on applying past lessons to future problems, on planning, on delaying gratifications, on work coming before play, on long-term goal setting.”

Lots of people see the negatives associated with these social changes (and again – there are only negatives associated with the porn industry and what it does to those who fall into its clutches). And there are negatives – if people look at their devices and never connect with real people. That’s certainly not been my experience of social media and its impact on my real world social interactions… sometimes I think someone should study the average age of people who write negative studies about young people.

But are people less connected and more selfish? I don’t know if this is a properly basic understanding of the social web. Even when the web goes wrong – and it did horribly in the aftermath of the Boston Bombings as Reddit went on a terrorist hunt – it goes wrong socially. It goes wrong because it brings people together in new ways. It harnesses the mob mentality. Texting is the same – it can appeal to our baser natures and amplify our capacity for sinfulness. Sure. But you don’t need smart phones and university studies to know that young people are vacuous and vain. In the main. Consider Narcissus. Facebook is the modern day version of the mirrored pool.

Are we failing to grow up? Or are the young people of today forced to confront less affordable housing than ever before because of the avarice of the generations above them. This will cause inevitable social change. So will new technology.

Sooner or later, as Christians, we’ve got to start thinking about how we get people thinking about Jesus when they’re staring at their iThings and playing games. If that’s where people are spending all their time “doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (like the marketplace in Acts 17:21), then we, like Paul, should see that as an opportunity for cultural critique and gospel engagement – not simply hand-wringing and condemnation. Imagine if Luther had condemned the printing press – because people reading and writing pamphlets wouldn’t be talking to other people. Or people ignoring Paul because he wrote them letters rather than being present…


john wilkins says:

Hi Nathan.. interesting post. I am not sure about the hedonism bit, my experience points to an addiction to texting which is disconnected with self-interest. This is what I see.
I am a rural GP. I pride myself in being intensely involved in my community and its families, having dedicated my efforts to the same low-income township for 33 years. One joy of doctoring is the privilege of being allowed access to intense interaction with one’s patients. I can’t think of any other situation where one human being can legitimately ask permission to enter the private world of another, and expect in almost all occasions an entry into an honest and intimate interaction.
Interaction with mid to late teenage age group is, traditionally, an exception, with evasion being a common experience. Perhaps my frustration with texting is just a variation on the age-old theme of teenagers just not feeling comfortable with exposing themselves to others.
My experience with texting starts with walking out of my room into the waiting area to se a teenager busily texting and almost defiantly continuing to text, without eye contact, throughout the process of being invited into the consulting room, entrering and sometimes standing texting in the middle of the room until negotiating the geography of my room sufficiently enough to acknowledge where the chair is and sitting down . I am left waiting patiently for sometimes quite a time, until the current text converstaion is over (or so I naively think), and I am finally granted the honour of the patient’s attention. Following comes a brief description of the health issues needing to be addressed, and as I begin the process of addressing these issues, the texting begins again. And so it goes on.
Sometimes, if a parent accompanies the teenage patient, the parent is left acting as spokesperson, allowing the kid full liberty to fully disengage and continue texting.
This is a new phenomenum to me and I am still unsure how to interpret or deal with it.
I don’t know if being polite is a good thing. But dealing with disengagement is a challenge. This is not hedonism. Rather I think it is an addiction ….. persisting with a repetitive, low stress activity which offers a way out from any complex involvement with the world outside the confines of the smart-phone screen..

[…] and it brings the same cultural doomsday prophets with the same cultural doomsday predictions. Change happens (also XKCD). It happens through the tools we create, and as a result of the tools we create. Some […]