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Anthropology: Digital Dependency in the Modern Culture

The processes and systems of life, no matter how well explained they are by science, are miraculous. Plants and animals coexist in incredible ways. Take the complex food chain for example, which relies on the interdependence of species. This bizarre natural relationship of supply and demand demonstrates just how sophisticated yet fragile these balances are. The intricacies of the natural world highlight a marvel worthy of our admiration, gratitude, and respect.

There are infinite ideas and realities that create and support the magnificence of the life experience. Unfortunately, man’s designs have a deteriorating effect on the appreciation of natural harmony. From driving certain species to extinction to industrialization’s harm to the environment, humans have had an irreversible impact on our relationship the natural world. The most subtle of these is digital dependency in the web of social media. Screens have stolen the attention from nature’s greatest audience, people. It’s when this dependency affects your daily life that the problem is worth addressing. The destructive characteristics of this dependency I separate into five categories. They are disconnection, devaluation, desensitization, and division.

Animation of two women sitting at a table together looking down at their cell phones.
Image from Como

Disconnection

We are all plugged into the virtual reality of social media. We often have find ourselves spending far more time in that realm than in actual reality. This can happen daily which leads to habitual disconnection from the real world. We all fall victim to the allurement of the glossy, lit up screen. The shiny, colorful animation of the apps keep us hooked. We are scrolling our lives away.

This obsession with the internet affects interpersonal communication. Attempting to hold conversations with relatives or colleagues, we continue to browse our social feeds. Remaining disengaged, we are only half listening. It is embarrassing to ask someone to repeat themselves because you didn’t hear them the first time. We are losing sight of the engagement that a healthy conversation requires. We are absorbed into the phones, televisions, and laptops. Trending videos and vacations selfies are becoming more important to us than quality person to person connections.

The truth is that social media is hardly social at all. It becomes an endless game of scrolling and tapping. At first, social media connected and enhanced people’s social lives. The modern social media platforms have hindered the younger generation’s development of authentic social skills and relationship building. If you come from a generation that was not raised with a tablet or a smartphone in your hands, you may have barely dodged this unprecedented era of disconnection. Unfortunately, your children will not.

Social Media Impact on Childhood

Kids used to play outside daily and form friendships with other children through mutual interests in toys, animals, and fictional characters. Those from past generations did not grow up dependent on devices and social media to connect and communicate. Today it is more common for children to grow up with digital savviness than with effective social skills. This is reenforced when there is no regulation of screen time in the home.

Teenagers rely on the approval aspect of social media to feel good about themselves. At this fragile stage of human life, teens seek validation and may expect to get it on the internet. This can backfire when theyexperience rejection from their peers. Social media makes it easier for bullies to be unkind and disrespectful. Harmful comments and lack of likes can increase insecurity in teens.

What we are looking at is a multilayered problem affecting everyone from toddlers to adults. Envying the lives of others, we forget how to live our own lives wholeheartedly. 

Escaping into Virtual Reality and Social Media

People in public are disengaging on a momentary basis. Staring down at their phone for some reason or other. It could be related to their social media accounts or emails. They are checking the like count and comments on their posts. They are reviewing upcoming events scheduled in their calendar.

You might find yourself next to two or three people while at an intersection crosswalk. In that short wait period, it is likely that someone, if not everyone, will pull out their phones. Whether or not it dinged, whistled, or vibrated – we pull the phones out of our pockets.

The device is now a preferred comfort zone. We find relief in the screen in even the least uncomfortable situations. The need to escape the slightest awkwardness feeds right into the false security of our devices.

It is certainly true that we enjoy life inside our phones, computers, and tablets. Escaping from reality into a virtual world is transforming the way we connect with each other. We should think about how far we want this to extend in our lives. To what extent will we let it remove us from the material world?

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Image from Search Engine Journal

Devaluation

The accessibility of information has been, in some ways, counterproductive for society. With it, we are left with shortened attention spans that are captivated by trending viral videos of goofball antics and parkour fails. Posts that appeal to our primitive minds, and not our intellect, are at the top of the charts. Quality content of cultural literacy is devaluated in comparison to the more stimulating, entertaining content.

With all knowledge of the world accessible at the tap of a fingertip, how can true captivation compete in this virtual space? The mere simplicity and immediacy of modern modes of knowledge attainment is dumbing us down. We can learn about something without much effort. Just plug the question into a Google search engine and click a link or two. Initially, this sounds great. However, in that expedited process several links of understanding and distinctions are lost. Reading becomes skimming. Distinguishing what’s valid and true becomes more challenging. 

Without the connections made in reading and research, understanding and retainment of the knowledge is fleeting. It may only last minutes and cannot compete with the never-ending distractive pull of our virtual realities. 

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Image from Ad Analysis Blog

Desensitization

The internet is a vast sea of infinite information and content. With a low-cost subscription to it, people of all ages can access anything they please. Cultural desensitization, especially in America, was a gradual process through the late twentieth century. Raunchy young adult flicks and risqué magazines were gentle steppingstones in this process. Fast forward to today, loosely regulated websites offer entertainment of all sorts. Surprisingly, it just takes a few clicks to virtually experience what used to be unspoken of taboo.

Internet pornography has played a key role in this acceleration by providing a world of sexuality to the public. Advertisement and media companies normalize sexual content. This is clear as video game nudity and sexualized advertisements are increasingly acceptable by society. The youth of today have access to an immense pool of sexual content. Consequently, pulling them toward becoming heavier lifelong pornography users and indulging in more dangerously taboo material.

Accepted Extremities

It is discussed in the Netflix docuseries, “Don’t Fu** With Cats”, that there are even websites where gruesome videos of terroristic beheadings or animal torture can be published and watched. With this kind of content circulating the internet, the loose boundaries of the web helps paint this dark image of the world. We are becoming desensitized to acts of evil. Similarly, most are either oblivious or simply shrug off the existence of this brutal content on the web; and some might even condone it.  

republicans in red and democrats in blue arguing and yelling from different sides of a trench that holds neutral people dressed in white hiding and covering their ears
Image from WSJ

Division on the Web: The Battles of Social Media

There are, of course, qualities of social media and internet use that cannot be argued against. It is not entirely bad. Social media has brought unprecedented connectivity. Public gatherings and protests for social justice are occurring worldwide thanks to this global connection. However, letting it consume your attention and influence your behavior negatively can be dangerous. It’s helpful to explore and understand the positive and negative impacts of technology on society and culture.

Unification through social media can also take things in the wrong direction. The storming of the capitol building in Washington D.C onJanuary 6th, 2021 clearly exemplifies this. The organization of this violent attack took place entirely through the internet. The malicious intent behind this protest proves how hatred ideologies can spread like wildfire on the internet. Once widely accepted, these extremist views manifest into dangerous, even terroristic, behaviors. 

Recent division among US citizens based on mostly political and social beliefs found its ideal battleground in social media. The divisive nature of the Trump presidency advanced in the social media arena. America came close to another civil war between the Trump supporters and democrats. In observation, it was a war whose soldiers fought mostly in the digital arena. Friends, colleagues, and relatives often argued or judged one another for whichever side they were on. Hate speech and prejudice gave way to a chapter of unrest in America.

There is Hope

What we are witnessing is a global nose-first dive into the virtual world. A world where anything goes. We are lost in an egocentric mass that envies superficial depictions of reality and sensualized information distributed to us through a glowing rectangle. The deeper we fall into this false portrayal of reality, the less valuable truth, transparency, and integrity are in society.

Still, there are critical thinkers who understand the manipulation behind the design. The team who directed and produced the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma highlighted this. They have launched a movement intended on informing the public about the harms of social media and technological smart devices. The goal is to get more internet users to understand the sinister methodology, and how our minds unconsciously respond and attach to it.  

With this understanding comes the ability to make informed decisions at the personal level. The objective is not to remove smart devices from our lives entirely. That would be impossible at this point. Awareness of the manipulative characteristics can help one reshape and refine their usage. For example, having the awareness to stop yourself from falling into the addictive patterns. Some of which can lead to six or more hours of screen time daily. Having this knowledge helps us hold conversations with others who might be caught in the web and want out.

They also mention that the creators of these social media platforms will not let their children use them. This alone reveals that there is something toxic about it, something not good for the mind.

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Image from Dreamstime

Healthier Alternatives

Undoubtedly, there will always be bad actors wherever you go. This does not mean we have to play into the hatred game. Taking any of the negativity online personally can cause pain, insecurity, and fear. Since we spend more time behind screens, it might be true that we observe more negativity than positivity. We can easily get caught in the troll trap and start sending hurtful comments ourselves.

The solution to this is simple: remove yourself from the situation. The execution of it, however, is not as likely. It takes conscious effort to apply understanding to action. We are emotional beings, but we are also rational beings. Realizing something is not good for you can go a long way. Stopping comment reading can be effective in how social media affects you. Suddenly, the well of negativity runs dry. Out of sight, out of mind.

Going Beyond the Screen

This removal will lead you to want to do something more interesting with your time. Healthy alternatives include exercising, book reading, writing, and learning a new language. If you find yourself with free time on your hands, try going outside for a walk or a run. Spending time outdoors can lift the spirit in ways you might not have imagined.

Ironically, these activities have been there the whole time. Fortunately, the world is ready for you to reconnect with it. It just takes a little effort to put down the cell phones, close the laptops, turn off the televisions. Reconnecting with people and with nature in the material world is a fulfilling way to live your life. 

Many of us unwillingly reside in the comfort zones of our devices. Consequently, we have lost touch with the true values of life. All of us could benefit from some digital detoxification. Start by placing down your devices, stepping back from social media and fear-mongering news articles. Engage in some self-care by taking the time to live your life in a meaningful way, whatever that means for you. Most importantly, discover how you can connect with the natural world in all its majesty and beauty. 

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