Blackspot

Screen Addiction

Does the overuse of screens alter our perceptions of reality?

Deconstructionist philosopher Avital Ronell teaches that a few generations ago European travelers in the Swiss Alps found the sight of the mountain peaks so overwhelming that they equipped their carriages with special screens to block their view. They looked through tinted glasses to mediate the experience of raw nature. Today, standing in the Alps or outside our home, we no longer rely on colored glasses. Instead, we use digital cameras, cell phones and movie players to filter our experience. And we have become so accustomed to the view that we prefer pixels to sublime reality … we are addicted to the screens we use to dampen the rawness of life.

We are a society in the grips of a widespread screen addiction. Many of us spend upwards of eight hours a day staring at a screen. We carry video capable iPods, Internet savvy BlackBerrys and graphically stunning portable game machines. We steal glances at these little screens throughout the day and then tuck them back into our pockets and return our gaze to the big screens sitting on our desks. In order to relax, we plop ourselves in front of a widescreen TV. We spend more time making eye contact with our screens than with our neighbors.

The screen is, by design, the ultimate distraction. Even when we try to avoid looking at screens, our eyes are naturally drawn to their flickering lights. The dazzling special effects of our iPhones and our video games stimulate our brains more powerfully than reality. Given the option of looking at the slow pace of nature unfold or the frenetic speed of a big budget movie playing on a tiny screen, we often choose the screen. But training our brains to expect constant visual stimulation has troubling consequences.

Neuroscientists are beginning to address the long-term consequences of visual addiction. Books such as iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind argue that the increase in screen use has rewired our brains and led to a decrease in our empathy and our ability to read facial language. The authors of iBrain ultimately propose a policy of moderating screen time, I wonder if this goes far enough. As visual technologies advance and a greater proportion of our working lives are spent online, there isn’t one, individual-based, solution.

Society is addicted to screens. What we need, therefore, is not a policy of personal moderation but a cultural revolution. Our visual addiction is masking our fear of feeling existence to its fullest. Our task is to build a movement to unwire our social relationships, to unlink our workplace communications and to accept the slow pace of life in order to directly confront the existential dilemmas that we face.

Micah White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters and an independent activist. He is writing a book on anti-screen activism. www.micahmwhite.com or micah (at) adbusters.org

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54 comments on the article “Screen Addiction”

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Anonymous

But will we truly gain more knowledge and information if we have to reference everything we say to someone elses idea

Anonymous

But will we truly gain more knowledge and information if we have to reference everything we say to someone elses idea

CH

Like Micah, I'm cool enough to have studied under Zizek, Butler, Ronell et al. and I wouldn't worry about those sources. I suspect that Avital taught the thing about the screens in a seminar, which means it's not necessarily in a book. It's still right to credit her. The rest of the article reads to me like it's Micah who's writing and not Micah who's quoting. What's important is that you read it, think it over and make up your own mind. You don't always have to quote people, you may also write stuff first-hand. Otherwise, we won't get any new knowledge. Besides, there is a lot of research, opinions etc out there that provide evidence but are still not correct.

CH

Like Micah, I'm cool enough to have studied under Zizek, Butler, Ronell et al. and I wouldn't worry about those sources. I suspect that Avital taught the thing about the screens in a seminar, which means it's not necessarily in a book. It's still right to credit her. The rest of the article reads to me like it's Micah who's writing and not Micah who's quoting. What's important is that you read it, think it over and make up your own mind. You don't always have to quote people, you may also write stuff first-hand. Otherwise, we won't get any new knowledge. Besides, there is a lot of research, opinions etc out there that provide evidence but are still not correct.

Disciple of the...

As a twenty five year old male that has grown up in what has become a technological revolution, I find that people losing the ability to read facial expressions and body language is definitely a concern. Countless times I have been involved in an altercation that was spawned through misinterpretation of someones reaction to information given them. ((Eg: Raise my eyebrow when I heard that this person was moving in with a friend. She interpreted that eyebrow raise as something entirely different and verbally attacked me. Mind you, I'm fairly this person as recently titled queen of the harpies :P)) I haven't felt that my own personal ability in this area has dimished whatsoever. I attribute this to the fact, that despite playing many hours in games, many hours in front of a dvd and spending countless hours in front of a screen in general, I also have maintained active participation in sports and social activities. Sports I feel have replaced to a certain degree, the hunt of the old days, or the battlefield. These things used to heighten our ability to interpret nature. Meanwhile, the women were gathering and socializing with each other, doing their 'womanly' tasks. These social situations that used to be part and parcel of every day life, simply don't exist anymore. But we replaced them over the years, sports, clubs, groups, etc. With the addition of video phones perhaps we'll see this trend ease off some. Scarily though, technology can already read our faces for identification purposes, I see great cause for concern when during a video call, your computer suddenly informs you that your friends mood appears to have shifted from 'normal' to 'sad', essentially removing entirely the need for us to interpret it for ourselves. Anyway, I feel that as long as we continue to interact on a physical level within our community through sports and social activities, we can combat this techno-devolution of our minds.

Disciple of the...

As a twenty five year old male that has grown up in what has become a technological revolution, I find that people losing the ability to read facial expressions and body language is definitely a concern. Countless times I have been involved in an altercation that was spawned through misinterpretation of someones reaction to information given them. ((Eg: Raise my eyebrow when I heard that this person was moving in with a friend. She interpreted that eyebrow raise as something entirely different and verbally attacked me. Mind you, I'm fairly this person as recently titled queen of the harpies :P)) I haven't felt that my own personal ability in this area has dimished whatsoever. I attribute this to the fact, that despite playing many hours in games, many hours in front of a dvd and spending countless hours in front of a screen in general, I also have maintained active participation in sports and social activities. Sports I feel have replaced to a certain degree, the hunt of the old days, or the battlefield. These things used to heighten our ability to interpret nature. Meanwhile, the women were gathering and socializing with each other, doing their 'womanly' tasks. These social situations that used to be part and parcel of every day life, simply don't exist anymore. But we replaced them over the years, sports, clubs, groups, etc. With the addition of video phones perhaps we'll see this trend ease off some. Scarily though, technology can already read our faces for identification purposes, I see great cause for concern when during a video call, your computer suddenly informs you that your friends mood appears to have shifted from 'normal' to 'sad', essentially removing entirely the need for us to interpret it for ourselves. Anyway, I feel that as long as we continue to interact on a physical level within our community through sports and social activities, we can combat this techno-devolution of our minds.

Alaric Malgraith

People always get so angry when I go somewhere, even to party down the block and don't take any pictures. I always tell them, "What's a visual representation of a landmark or event without the ambiance, the affect, the feeling of place?"

Alaric Malgraith

People always get so angry when I go somewhere, even to party down the block and don't take any pictures. I always tell them, "What's a visual representation of a landmark or event without the ambiance, the affect, the feeling of place?"

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