William Powers, a former journalist at the Washington Post and author of the bestseller Hamlet’s Blackberry, gave a presentation on Thursday at Weber State University about how humans have always tried to connect with the world through evolving technology.
“(Humans have an) inborn drive to want to reach out to connect and figure out what’s going on in the globe in new ways,” Powers said.
Powers explained that technology evolved from the human invention of speaking. As speaking evolved, it led to finding ways to send messages thousands of miles. People were able to speak directly to each other by the 20th century rather than dealing with the expense of sending messages.
“We have this ongoing version of the world because it is constantly updating,” Powers said.
Although Powers said he benefited from being connected, on the other hand, he said he felt like it was putting him into a “type of prison.” He said he could no longer go into the world without feeling connected to the digital grid.
“We all have that feeling that we need to stay plugged in,” Powers said.
Powers said his attention span was growing shorter because he used a computer so much.
“The ability to stay focused on a specific task is crucial,” Powers said.
Even hospitals were said to have a terrible time dealing with doctors and nurses using phones in the operating room rather than focusing on the task at hand.
For family life, the lack of connection has risen because people have tended to communicate more digitally according to Powers. To help fix the problem, he and his family decided to do a media sabbath by turning the internet off every weekend. After a few months, Powers said it became easier and that they looked forward to the weekend more often.
“The point is to try something where you are designing your own digital life,” Powers said. “It’s your life, and you will get more out of it because you are in charge of it.”
Scott Rogers, an associate professor of English at WSU, is part of a team of professors who teach a course in relation to this event. According to Rogers, it is cross-listed with English and history.
“The course is about distractedness in the digital age,” Rogers said, “and what we’re doing is reading some contemporary discussions about technology and distraction and pairing those readings with older texts about technology and distractedness from the 18th and 19th centuries in America and Britain.”
Rogers reiterated on Powers’ point about controlling digital life.
“We’re in control of technology,” Rogers said. “We can turn it off if we want to.”
Chris Leither said that Facebook is a distraction.
“Doing homework, I usually find myself on the computer, looking at videos or on Facebook,” Leither said.
Leither said Facebook and Twitter definitely affect how people are socially, but he does not think that they should ever disconnect from it.
“Everyone uses the Internet, and I don’t think you should have to turn it off or take a break,” Leither said.