I recently watched a YouTube Red episode from Michael Stevens’s, creator of Vsauce, new series “Mind Field,” which, in Episode One, examines the effect of isolation on the human brain. Stevens secluded himself in a sound-proof, hyper-illuminated, radiantly white room for three days to test the biological and psychological effects upon the human body for observational learning. Throughout the duration of the time spent in this mundane, roughly 10’x5’ cubicle, his perception of time was substantially altered, thus causing sleep deprivation and the effects following suit. Even after keeping himself occupied by counting steps, attempting pushups, and building makeshift pyramids with water containers, his dreams began to morph with reality. He, at one point, opened the door—though narrowly—as if believing himself to still be within the dream sequence. This hallucinatory, illusive pattern continuing from early morning to late at night pummeled Stevens’s inquisitive brain. After the three days, he exuberantly hugged and joined hands with his family awaiting his, in his own words, “Resurrection.”
Though this is an extreme scenario, the self-seclusion and isolation of technology and its effects upon the human psyche is ubiquitous. With the world ever depositing its wealth of information and social value onto a screen, professional and technological advocates have stressed the importance of these networks while others suggest these anti-personal systems cause anti-social behavior and inducing a type of isolation. In an article by the Wall Street Journal, according to forty-year-plus research psychologist Larry Rosen, quoting psychology cohort Sherry Turkle, “we are only getting ‘sips’ of connection, not real communication.” These anxiety-inducing proclivities edging us away from the real world into the virtual realm of depression and fantastic desire are only perpetuated by the annual advent of the new and greatest version of *fill in the blank*. According to Dr. Rosen, this an emotional health hazard.
On the other end of the spectrum, the writer, Keith N. Hampton, argues the technological revolution should be welcomed. Hampton recounts a 1909 observation of the rising distractions, which are a detriment to the socialization and cohesion of the family unit:
“Consider ‘what a strange practice it is…that a man should sit down to his breakfast table and, instead of conversing with his wife, and children, hold before his face a sort of screen on which is inscribed a world-wide gossip.’”
The writer submits to the drastic changes of our time, yet appeals to human nature’s intrinsic, built-in desire for entertainment and distraction—recognizing the supplementary benefit of social media as opposed to its purported replacement.
“It turns out the size of the average American’s social circle is smaller today than 20 years ago, as measured by the number of self-reported confidants in a person’s life.”
On the contrary, people plugged into the social arena are more likely to get involved within the community by volunteering at various places and visiting parks, cafes, and amusement parks. Yet the study found a catch:
“People who use social networks like Facebook or Linkedin are 30 percent less likely to know their neighbors and 26 percent less likely to provide them companionship.”
Scientists at Stanford University conducted a study in 2005 elucidating the affects of social networks and technology upon the human body. At the time,
“…those [who use the Internet frequently] spend…70 minutes less daily interacting with family, 25 minutes less sleeping and 30 minutes less watching television.”
Since 1985, based on a Pew Research study, people have “dropped” their number of friends by one-third—that’s 30%. Though the number of people admitting personal confidence in close friends rose 300%, people connected to the outside world via electronics are more diverse while preferring “face-to-face communication as the primary means to stay in touch with friends and family.”
But why do we plug in?
According to Amitai Etzioni, writer with The Huffington Post, consumerism is, “the obsession with acquisition that has become the organizing principle of American life.” Distinguishing between consumption and consumerism, he delineates the difference by needs versus wants. Trends are set by the collective desire for knowledge or “acquisition” of extra. For example, according to Etzioni, “the good life,” the philosophical terminology for an absolutely flourishing life, has been pursued by different cultures for various reasons. War, philosophy, poetry, reason, art, music, and religious eras have been formed under the duress of crisis all the while contributing to the advancement of civilization to innovate and repeat this cycle, this circumambulation around the same petulant selfish mantra of ultimate satisfaction—not realizing ultimate satisfaction is not contingent upon the accruing of wealth, things, fame, and pseudo-nirvana. Regardless of social status, joy cannot be bought. Happiness can be bought because it can and continue to happen. Joy is deep-seated within the soul. And the soul shall never perish.
The writer argues for communitarianism; however, this is facile.
“Communitarianism refers to investing time and energy in relations with the other, including family, friends and members of one’s community.”
Though beneficial physically, emotionally, and, some would say, spiritually, for one to spend time with family and friends, life extends beyond the community. This world is hurting. Children are starving; people are warring over dirt and old sins long forgotten; people are committing atrocities in the name of God and nationalism; people are selling each other into slavery for menial gain; and people sacrifice their family, friends, and insurmountable potential for new cars, new televisions, new games, new homes, and new technology for a life of bitterness and misery. Contemporary America, alongside our European and Canadian counterparts, promulgate introspection and deep inner-searching for enlightenment and self-realization to only find emptiness and the eternal desire for stuff.
Throughout history, consuming material goods in excess has been propagated by governments to instill a desire for more and a distraction from reality. Historian Lizabeth Cohen writes,
“The good purchaser devoted to ‘more, newer and better’ was the good citizen since economic recovery after a decade and a half of depression and war depended on a dynamic mass consumption economy.”
In the 1950s, while President Eisenhower was formulating new foreign policy guidelines, expanding the capabilities of the intelligence community, and directing covert operations worldwide to coerce and assassinate foreign leaders for economic advantage, the patriarchal model was propagated by an ever-expanding government to combat Communism, a movement temporarily ignored by FDR to combat the lesser, more pregnable Nazi Germany. Furthermore, the government promulgated cookie-cutter-ism and conformity—discouraging individualism and free-thought—to fight the atheists impinging on freedom worldwide.
“Historian Elaine Tyler May noted, ‘The values associated with domestic spending upheld traditional American concerns with pragmatism and morality, rather than opulence and luxury. Purchasing for the home helped alleviate traditional American uneasiness with consumption: the fear that spending would lead to decadence.’”
Though recognizing the degradation of family cohesion, even after decades of success and failure, we, as a people, never change. Interestingly, Simon Parkin, writer with The New Yorker and video games connoisseur, writes about the 2014 game Destiny,
“In this way, from a certain angle at least, Destiny exposes the alluring futility of the consumerist systems on the other side of the screen. The game is designed to keep you dissatisfied with your lot so that you will continue playing and investing. Like World of Warcraft, when you peel back the metaphor, the game offers a bleak (if unintended) critique of consumerism: once you reach the endgame, you become a character that has everything in world. Everything, that is, except for a purpose.”
Overall, whether one is secluding himself into a 10’x5′ cubicle literally or figuratively, accumulating stuff to fulfill his empty desires, thus replacing commmunity (i.e. family, friends) with facile endeavors, running to receive a perishable reward, to “box as one beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:25-26), seeking inner-revelation only to find a soul filled with despair, or disseminating propaganda to continue moving the world via covert operations and thwart nature’s course, one must remain aware of the human hunger that leads to friction and quarrels. It isn’t worth it.