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Thursday, July 11, 2013

"The Digital Invasion" (Archibald D. Hart and Sylvia Hart Frejd)

TITLE: Digital Invasion, The: How Technology Is Shaping You and Your Relationships
AUTHOR: Archibald D. Hart and Sylvia Hart Frejd
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013, (236 pages).

Technology is here to stay. Does that mean faith is now pushed out of the way? The good news and bad news of technology is the same: We are always reachable. That is why the title of the book is telling, that technology, in particular, digital technology has invaded our traditional spheres in more ways than we can ever imagine. All of us have been influenced by technology. As the world continues to change, the best that parents and adult educators can do is to provide guidelines to constructive usage of technology instead of creating dams to prevent people's use of technology. The key emphasis is in putting technology in its rightful places, and people in their respective spaces. The father and daughter have teamed up together to write about the impact of technology in our contemporary times. It is no longer about Aldous Huxley's prediction of technology controlling the future. Instead, it is how to prevent technology from totally taking over our modern world. Hart himself is both a technologist as well as a trained psychologist. As such, he has the privilege of seeing the world from both a technological as well as a sociological standpoint. While there is a bright side to technology on the outside, there is an insidious dark side on the inside. He remarks perceptively that we are quickly seeing the last of a generation who have experienced an "unplugged world." He uses the terms "digital natives" as those born with modern digital culture, and "digital immigrants" as those who have technology introduced to them in their lifetime. Further sub-categories exist within each group. Both authors find that there are worrying trends that are happening right now.

  • The ironical increase in communications that are lacking in face to face connections;
  • Loss of interpersonal communications skills;
  • Inability to focus and concentrate
  • Multitasking and the lack of courtesy to give people undivided attention
  • There is a new Generation C: (connected)
  • With digital connection comes digital intrusion by all, including total strangers;
  • ...
Their research also points to a worrying trend: "digital engagement seems to be breaking down their sense of unity as a family." Both parents and children are hooked to their computers or phones. Both are addicted. Texts are preferred to face to face communications. In other words, both digital natives and digital immigrants eventually face the same problem. When parents are trying to protect their children, they too need to remember to protect themselves from the same ill-effects of technology. The authors believe that while digital natives may know a lot about technology, digital immigrants know more about life. Hart argues that there is something more sinister, that not only is the digital world shaping our lives, many are oblivious about it. According to a 2011 Barna report, people are uncritically accepting technology more than caution; few people take breaks from their digital devices; technology use causes conflicts within families; hypocrisy accusation in many directions with regards to technological usage; lack of teaching with regards to technology and faith. An army chaplain laments the increasing invasion of technology that is tearing apart young soldiers, rendering them incapable of handling emotional traumas and inability to cope with failure, rejection and loss. Why? Simply because for most of the time, after a tiring day at the war zone or training, they come back and plunge into a world of Xbox, Internet, and digital mediums, at the expense of time with their spouses, loved ones, and meaningful relationships. This is supported by a rise in suicides, sexual assaults, and domestic violence!

One of the key things to learn is that our brains are changeable. Quoting Nicholas Carr, one result of brain change is in the way we handle information. We are training our brains to forget (if need to just Google) rather than remember (making a point to recall and reinforce). Whatever our brains have developed in terms of speedy access to information, it will lack in other ways, like how we learn. Other disorders that technology can cause to the brains are abuse of the pleasure systems in our brains, aka addiction; ignoring ordinary pleasures due to heightened levels of technological stimulations; higher levels of anxiety as our cortisol levels rise; failure to exercise information retention; inability to focus leads to learning fatigue; inadequate sleep; just to name a few.

Then there is the multitasking myth. Society has glorified multitasking to the point that they have failed to distinguish human multitasking from computer multitasking. For multitasking does not necessarily facilitate learning, simply because our brains are more designed for sequential work rather than multitasking. The authors bring multitasking to task because it has been uncritically accepted so much and so fast, that multitasking is actually not progression but regression in terms of relationships as well as quality of work. For instance, the Brodmann Area 10 of the frontal lobe of the brain which deals with switching tasks. The more one multitasks, the greater the level of blood flow to this area. Studying high multitaskers, researchers have found this area flushed with blood, increasing anxiety hormones, and subsequently impacts learning ability. In order words, multitasking decreases the level of attentiveness to any one task.

There are more concerns with regards to social media usage. With the rise of social media use comes a corresponding rise in "narcissistic epidemic." People are so pre-occupied with themselves and what they do, that they are postings stuff about themselves more and more. In traditional relationships, people take time to interact, to meet at the convenience of others, to invest emotionally and patiently to listen to one another. In a social media world, it is a case of I-choose-I-post-I-declare, with absolutely no need to connect at other people's terms. For Facebook allows one to freely choose when and what to post, totally oblivious to how it would impact others. Social media also impacts the dating world. The problem is when people substituting online communications for real life communications. Other disorders of excessive social media us include depression, affairs, loneliness.

Thankfully, there is hope in overcoming digital addiction. It begins with an acknowledgement of our vulnerability to digital addiction. It is in understanding the components of technological connections, its implications, and its consequences. It is recognizing that technology can be an unhealthy form of escapism from the real world. Digital usage is not simply about using technology. It is about technology changing us, even our brains. Dr Frejd is concerned that heightened digital use is a threat to anyone wanting to cultivate one's natural potential. Key to it is to understand ourselves, and our own vulnerabilities, and then to subject our use of technologies to stay within the limits of our natural abilities. In other words, do not "overclock" our bodily CPUs. The authors suggest an interesting "digital pyramid" that is worth pondering and practicing. Move toward an unplugged life more and more, if we truly want to cultivate our best potential. The more we can benefit from being unplugged, the more we can benefit best when going online. In other words, let there be a balanced and healthy segmentation of online and offline engagement. Use intentional strategies to keep us on the healthy leash. The authors also developed ten steps to help readers do just that.

So What?

There are so many things that resonate with me in this book that made me sing out YES! Research data and shocking finds made me say out WOW! Information on how technology can shape our brains made me worry with "Oh No!" Indeed, the biggest value for me in this book is to realize that digital use comes with a fair mix of advantages and disadvantages. The problem is that we have unconsciously hyped up the advantages and unwittingly stayed silent or oblivious about the disadvantages. Hart and Frejd have given us a digital warning about the Trojan horse of convenient technologies that threaten our relationships, our learning abilities, our growth as a natural human person, and our need to switch off on a regular basis. We are not to work ourselves out the way we work our computing devices out. Social skills cannot be developed only on the social media front. It needs to be exercised often in a face to face manner. There are way too many human skills that cannot be replicated through a digital medium. Digital technologies can promise a lot, but the moment the electricity is gone, all we have is a blank screen. Which is a reminder that behind technology is something even more important: Energy.

Without energy, it is like having a nice Ferrari without gas, a lamp without electricity, or a beautiful yacht without fuel. Being human, we cannot let technology replace our need for personal connections in a non-digital form. Sometimes, a casual walk down the park with no cell phones, no MP3, and no Internet connections, can do wonders to inculcating a peace and serenity that no digital signals can produce.

This is one of the best works on the dangers of uncritical acceptance and use of digital technologies. Beware, the invasion has already started. Be hopeful, for simply being aware, we can turn the ship around. Let this book be your first step to turn the ship around toward a lasting, and more meaningful relationships and personal growth, with or without technologies.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Baker Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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