If you’ve made it this far, you may be wondering why I’m not yet advocating for you to toss your phone into the sea. Like me, you may have been tempted to get rid of your gadget, or at least daydream about a time when you weren’t tied to one. But for all their negative traits, something keeps us tied to our devices and their streams of content.
The truth is, technology and social media isn’t all bad. I can remember the drama of school holidays and not being able to chat with my friends for the long two months before classes started again. This simply isn’t reality in today’s connected society.
These days in the privileged world, being connected is almost a birthright. Despite great distances, we’re able to maintain relationships with those dear to us. The benefits can be truly amazing. I can remember the first time my small niece and nephew arrived with my sister at the Edmonton airport. Living in a different city, they’d rarely been physically near my mom and dad, and it was incredibly difficult to watch my parents deal with that distance. But through the small miracle of regular Skype calls, the recognition was immediate and they came bounding toward their grandparents for hugs and kisses. It was breathtaking.
The availability of technology and social media is astounding. I thought my jaw would drop when I heard about rickshaw drivers in India toting around their mobile devices. But compared to a landline that requires a house, these gadgets could be used anywhere and paid for on the go instead of a monthly fee. The freedom and accessibility that new technology offers is incredible and it’s nothing short of wonderful to see a rickshaw driver set up regular fares and secure consistent income.
With access to the world wide web there’s an ability to participate in larger conversations and contribute a voice to topics previously reserved for the mass media. Online socialization has provided a platform for even the most niche interest groups to gather and feel connected. Who among us doesn’t appreciate a sense of connection to something greater than our own personal interests?
The Case for Technology & Physical Health
Even in healthcare, apps and technology are breaking barriers. Researchers can cost-effectively gather data and health professionals can employ technology to stay connected with patients requiring ongoing support*. In fact, a friend recently told me about how wonderful it is to text his concerns to his counsellor so he doesn’t have to worry about remembering them before the next appointment.
But it doesn’t stop at simple messaging and keeping track of reminders. Assistive technology facilitates communication in ways we could never have imagined in the 20th century. Technology has provided us with devices to help track the progress of sick children, keep physical tabs on patients suffering from dementia, and even allows us to know the whereabouts of individuals released into the community after time in prison. Technology helps us support and empower people who could otherwise not do so on their own.
I was recently interviewed about a new social media tool for kids in children’s hospitals, an application with the ability to receive accurate information about health conditions in kid-friendly language within a controlled online environment. The feedback from families is unanimously appreciative, with one of the greatest benefits being the ability for children to connect with other kids in similar situations. The resulting effect to overcome the isolation so many children in these situations feel is priceless to their families.
Our devices and media streams were designed to serve us and often they do. You won’t find me throwing my phone into a river any time soon, but I can say you won’t find me on it at all hours of the day and night either. At this point we should be aware of how good it can feel to connect with someone through the advances in technology, but keep reading, because you might find yourself wanting to experiment with how fulfilling it can be to unplug, too.
* Hewson, C., Vogel, C. & Laurent, D. (2015). Internet research methods (2nd ed). London, UK: SAGE Publications Ltd.