The BackShop Journal

A Gallery of Thoughts on Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

A Short Rumination on the Hypnotic Effect of Computer Screens and Social Networks

Have you ever had difficulties walking away from your shiny laptop or smart phone screen? Do you have a site, like Facebook or some other social network, which you have to keep checking every 15-20 minutes all day long? If the answer is yes, it is not surprising, since looking at your favourite websites or playing your favourite game has the same effect on the brain as some heavy drugs. Recent brain imaging research has shown that it has the exact same influence on the brain's frontal cortex as cocaine does. Technology is so stimulating - it raises dopamine levels, the neurotransmitters responsible for various addictions. True, this is not alcohol or narcotics we are talking about, but it can have just as serious consequences on one's social interactions, ability to concentrate and overall emotional wellbeing.

Technology has made our communication quicker, the transfer of data more reliable, and the availability of information extremely accessible. Probably too quick and too accessible. Imagine a life in the countryside a 100 years ago, without a computer, TV, perhaps even a phone. Nowadays, people can get more information in a week than during the course of an entire life as recently as a century ago. Receiving more information than one can absorb causes an incredible amount of stress. Adults can become merely more irritable, restless and less able to concentrate. In children, however, addiction to the shining screens often translates to some sort of attention-deficit disorder, autism or depression. This is more serious than we all might have imagined.

When you look superficially at social networks, they don't differ much from other modes of communication. People show their friends or online acquaintances their photos, accomplishments, express their opinion. When you think about it, though, social networks are giant, virtual vanity fairs. The main purpose of the majority of their users is just to showcase their works, physical appearances or worldviews. And it's all virtual. There is no more open conversations between close friends, heartfelt confessions or compassionate advices, where body language in a personal contact can usually tell more than words. Now you take a picture of your half-naked or silly self, and send it out there into ether, hoping for dozens, preferably hundreds of "likes". Just take a few seconds to reflect on this.

Not to mention the amount of kitsch the networks produce. In addition to amateur selfies and low-quality photography, there is also the banalisation of words in the form of universally accepted abbreviations, lack of punctuation, and bad grammar, as well as a depreciation of art in the shape of emojis and standardised templates. Remember the pencil drawings and hand-written letters? They now seems centuries away.

In 1993, I wrote a short text for my college student magazine about virtual reality and "cyberfantasies." Beside enthusiasm for possibilities the new technologies would offer, I expressed a bit of apprehension as to the direction all this would take us. I still don't believe human interaction will become as bleak as in the spaceship scene at the end of the Pixar animated film Wall-E, but the effect on our children's psyches might become even worse. The characters in the movie had not lost basic moral feelings and appreciation for nature at least, whereas the depersonalisation and alienation the cyber world is generating, alas, seems even more dystopian.

Svetozar Postic

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