Gadget Freakery

A discussion guide on the topic.

Readings:

Alex Hudson, “The Age of Information Overload” BBC News

Matt Richtel, “Silicon Valley Says Step Away from the Device” New York Times

Alexis Madrigal, “Are We Addicted to Gadgets or Indentured to Work?” The Atlantic

The “gist”: Hudson reports that human beings eat more data than ever before, and repeats the common complaint that there is now too much information. The consequence is a potentially paralyzing “information overload.” Most disquieting, he says, is multitasking, which makes it possible to have more than 24 hours of screen time in a single day.

Richtel says that even technology executives know that there is a problem with Internet addiction and gadget freakery. In fact, they may have noticed the effects of electronic obsessions before the rest of us did. Electronic screens, particularly interactive ones – as opposed to passive ones, like television – increase dopamine in the reward center of the brain. Instead of making us more productive, and augmenting our creativity, our digital devices have debilitated us.

Madrigal responds to Richtel’s piece, arguing that this is really a problem of Homo economicus, which has made us callous to our social needs for things like conversation, love, and acceptance. Our bosses are exacerbating the problem by instilling fear of job loss. Now it’s not only “all work and no play,” but “all work and no pay.” Madrigal recommends we revolt – not against the machines per se, but our political, cultural, and corporate masters.

Key terms and definitions:

Worker productivity – The ratio of production output to what is required to produce it (inputs); amount of goods and services that a worker produces in a given amount of time.

Homo economicus – Humans are rational and narrowly self-interested actors who have the ability to make judgments toward their subjectively defined ends; contrast with homo reciprocans, which states that human beings are primarily motivated by the desire to be cooperative and to improve their environment.

“The Great Speedup” – an employer’s demand for accelerated output without increased pay.

Internet addiction disorder (IAD) –Internet overuse, problematic computer use, or pathological computer use; excessive computer use that interferes with daily life. IAD was originally proposed as a disorder in a satirical hoax by Ivan Goldberg, M.D., in 1995.

Discussion questions:

  • Do we really consume more data today than we did pre-Internet? Or are we just consuming different kinds of information than we once did?
  • Should kids still be learning how to write in cursive in elementary school? How about how to write a letter (snail mail)? Should these be replaced with keyboarding and texting/tweeting?
  • Is it duplicitous for computer companies to be making these products and at the same time telling us to use them only in moderation?
  • Is there a technological solution to every problem? Will our gadgets and technology inevitably save the world, or will they destroy the world?
  • Evaluate the following claim: Information is not just increasing exponentially; it is obsolescing at a rapid rate as well. It no longer makes sense to make students memorize vast quantities of information that will become outdated a few years beyond college.
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