It cannot be disputed that the technological advancements in the last decade have made life easier for a lot of people. We no longer have to wait for dial-up internet, and the thought of waiting more than five seconds for a web page to load enrages us. At the drop of a hat, we can use our cell phones to check what our friends are up to, check our email, search for the nearest gas station, or Google how big blue whales can grow. Ironically, our use of cell phones for email and text messaging has rendered the actual phone call obsolete.

As a child of the 90s, I should be used to all of this “new-fangled” technology. My earliest experience with technology was waiting for my mom to get off the house phone before I could use the dial-up internet on our only household computer to chat to my friends after school for approximately ten minutes. I realize that in the grand scheme of technological advancement, this is not an “early” memory. Yes, I should be used to this, but over the years technology has only made me more anxious and nostalgic for the days of face-to-face, or at least voice-to-voice communication.

A recent study discussed in Seattle Times suggests I may be the only one of my generation who feels this way. The study, conducted at the University of Maryland, required a group of college students to give up all technology for 24 hours. The students reported feeling anxious and withdrawn in the absence of technology; shockingly, one participant’s feedback described typically sending a text message every minute or so and being unable to go 24 hours without a cell phone.

The purpose of these two technologies begs the question – is it the technology themselves that is addictive, or is it the ‘ambient presence’ that they enable. (Ambient presence is a term coined in reference to the consistent, low-level awareness of our social connections enabled by the surge in communication-oriented technology.)

I for one love that these technologies can keep me integrated in the lives of my loved ones, even when we are separated by time and space.  But, like the students studied at the University of Maryland, I can literally feel the drawbacks.

We are, by nature, a social species who find pleasure in communing…Having tools on hand that allow us to fulfill this desire in increasingly efficient ways, though, has elevated expectations of my connectedness  to a level that I’m not sure I can keep up with.  And so what are the costs of fulfilling these expectations?  Constant communication pushes out opportunities for reflection and introspection – those vehicles for internal growth with which self-actualization is impossible.

And when these expectations turn into needs what then?  I have found myself in an almost panic state on realizing that I didn’t have my phone with me.  And what did I do?  I went home, got my phone and immediately called my companion why I was running late for our date.  He understood, naturally.  The irony of the situation being, of course, that the very vehicle that is supposed to facilitate our coming together had actually kept us apart.  So while I love the iPhone, too, it scares me a little to know that my relationship with it is somewhere between owning it and being owned.

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