I love gadgets. They make me happy. Amazon just sent me a snazzier Garmin Nuvi. Trying it out while driving around yesterday, I had a great time. Really.
I'm a believer that money spent on technological innovations actually can buy happiness, especially if what I've bought is made by Apple.
So I found quite a bit to disagree with in a recent New Scientist article by Yair Amichai-Hamburger, "Free yourself from oppression by technology." (Yes, that's a real name; he's director of an Internet Psychology research center in Israel.)
The other factor is relatedness: our need to feel close to other people. Technology is a threat to this. Devices like the iPod can be used to create a bubble that disconnects us from normal human interactions, and while some virtual relationships may be truly meaningful, in many cases they come at the expense of real-world connections. Psychologists have found that the pivotal difference between happy and unhappy people is the presence or absence of rich and satisfying social relationships. Spending meaningful time with friends, family and partners is necessary for happiness.
Admittedly, he has a point.
Some people get obsessed with Facebook, gaming, online pornography, or other cyberspace enticements. But people also get obsessed with solitary fly-fishing, reading romance novels, and crossword puzzles.
Probably when writing started to become common, some of our ancestors decried the impersonal nature of communicating via papyrus or clay slates. "Why aren't we talking to each other face-to-face so much any more?!"
Ditto when the telephone came along. Yet now getting a letter in the mail or a phone call, rather than an email or text message, is viewed as a marvelous bit of old-fashioned personal outreach.
Culture changes. Society changes. Technology changes. Communication changes. Where's the problem in that?
I spend quite a bit of time on my computer. Maintaining two blogs, with a daily post on one or the other, keeps me staring at a MacBook screen for an hour or two each afternoon or evening, not to mention all the other stuff I do online.
Reading and replying to emails. Keeping up on my favorite web sites. Handling our finances. Etc. Etc.
I don't feel at all oppressed by this. Nor do I feel depersonalized. I keep in touch with lots of people who I would otherwise have no interactions with. I've "met" countless commenters on my blogs who live all around the world.
Yes, getting together with our fellow humans physically is nice. But so is getting together mentally. When I communicate with someone online, I consider that I'm doing so "in person."
I've gone to a lot of social gatherings where the normal mode of interacting is shallow chit-chat. I can take it for a while, but eventually my head feels like it's going to explode if I talk for another minute about the weather, or grandchildren, or how good the snacks are.
I have lots of meaningful interactions with people face-to-face. I also have lots of meaningful interactions with people technology-to-technology, which often are deeper and more honest.
The print version of the New Scientist article has this title and tagline:
Shiny, unhappy people
That new phone or laptop may be giving you a warm glow, but beware a stealth attack on your happiness, warns Yair Amichai-Hamburger
OK, maybe this is a fair warning for some people.
As for me, I'm going to continue enjoying the warm glow of happiness I get when I flip open my laptop, browse my iPhone applications, and check out the tricks my Garmin Nuvi 285W can do.
Or write a blog post all by myself. Ah, the bliss of pushing the "publish" button. Here comes a burst of joy...