Our reliance on gadgets is making us think less for ourselves

Sadly, our devices provide an impetus for all of us to become recluses in some form or another. The more we interact with them, the more they begin to reflect our own little worlds back to us.

By Doreen Dodgen-Magee (Virtual Insanity)

Published: Fri 13 Mar 2020, 10:24 PM

Last updated: Sat 14 Mar 2020, 12:25 AM

Our tech-drenched daily life offers more opportunities for distraction, and it also creates a reality within which we are a 'product' of sorts. Marshall McLuhan famously opined in 1964, "The medium is the message." Applying this thesis today, although we may unconsciously act as though we are clients of the social media, video games, and viewable/purchasable content we engage online, we are actually their products.
This reality ultimately reduces us (mostly the data we generate) to a commodity. And we pay the price as a result of this.
Not only do we tender massive amounts of helpful (and free to them) data to those companies that use us as their products, but the algorithms created by the items we click on, websites we frequent, subjects we search, and goods and services we buy online determine what pops up on our screens every day. Given that we may never consciously consider this, it is not surprising to think we might unconsciously experience these curated images and suggestions as reinforcement for our own preferences. For instance, people whose internet history is rife with searches about cars and automotive repair will be presented with advertisements in the same vein.
When all we are fed is more of what we prefer, we become overly comfortable in our own little spaces. Seeing the seemingly serendipitous nature of our online experiences as being evidence of how perfectly aligned our own preferences are with those of the world keeps us in a self-centric loop. We must recognise that this is occurring and that it does so because, ultimately, the corporations that collect and control our data are benefited by us having positive feelings and experiences online and of staying on their sites for significant amounts of time.
For many of us, this means using our data to feed us more and more of what we already like and to keep us from being in uncomfortable spaces. The self-centricity that unconsciously comes into play blinds us to the ways in which we have become closed-minded or narrow in our experience. When we remove the blinders, we are faced with extreme all-or-none, right-or-wrong, my way-or-the-highway kinds of mindsets.
We all have been exposed to the stereotype of recluses who stay tucked away in their own mental and physical environs, becoming increasingly paranoid and certain they are the only sane people in the world. Sadly, our devices provide an impetus for all of us to become recluses in some form or another. The more we interact with them, the more they begin to reflect our own little worlds back to us.
In some ways, even the act of listening to music used to help us become more well-rounded people. When radio or long-play records were available as our primary means of exposure to music, we were confronted with songs we were unfamiliar with or that were regularly outside our known setlist. We were passively exposed to newness and novelty. This inherently had the effect of growing and stretching us as listeners. With the advent of music selection sites, we can now assure ourselves of a constant stream of music that is exactly what we like. And we are increasingly comfortable with removing the 'inconvenience' of listening to something out of our ordinary.
This kind of curation happens in many ways across many domains of our lives and is not necessarily a bad or negative thing. It is, however, not a completely neutral or benign reality. We are healthiest when we face optimal levels of challenge to our automatic ideas and beliefs. When these are never confronted, we can remain blind to our own biases or, worse, develop a strong sense of narcissistic entitlement.
This can lead to our becoming judgmental of people and things that do not fall into the realm of our likes or preferences. The antidote? We need regular reminders, no matter how small, that: Our preferences are not the end-all, be-all; we are not the centre of the universe; our digital experiences are shaped by our own habits rather than by objective, non-personally-tailored digital histories; newness, novelty, and diversity are important agents of growth.
A second impact of the algorithms created by our online histories is the potential they have for keeping us stuck in certain ruts of thought, action, or interest. We "like" something, and we get more of it. This is especially vital to bear in mind when considering the digital engagement of children and adolescents. Kids are curious by nature and grow by seeking information and interacting with it.
We, subsequently, may have a difficult time walking away from those curiosities that have the potential to harm us or hold us hostage.
- Psychology Today
- Doreen Dodgen-Magee is a psychologist, author, and speaker who focuses on how technology shapes people

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