Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Digital Zombies



Are we becoming desensitized humans because of our attachments to digital outlets? Do we think that because we are so connected digitally that we have no need to be connected in other ways?

Two things have brought this to my attention. The other day my daughter was riding her bike in Portland when she swerved to avoid a construction site that had spilled out into the street, causing her to crash and hurt herself on train tracks. What was so unusual was that there was a man standing three feet from her putting coins in a meter and he didn't even look up. The construction guys laughed and didn't help her up in any way, nor did they ask her if she was alright as she limped by.

The second incident involved a family member willing to cut off two siblings over a slight that was mostly imagined on her part - certainly not something that was intentional on the part of the two siblings.

What is happening here? My daughter feels the men that watched her crash are digitally desensitized. They watch things crash and get hurt through video games, television shows, etc, and it requires a passive response. Have our brains been rewired to not respond when something is happening in real time? Do family members not feel a connection to other family members because their lives are so full of being busy that people that care about them no longer matter?

Our minds are funny things - they tend to gravitate to what is familiar - regardless of whether it is the right thing to do. If passive or irritated reactions to a world that is picking up speed is the accustomed response, then that's where it will go automatically.

For my part, I've noticed a need to disconnect from my blog a bit because of this very issue. Instead of making an effort with friends, it was much easier to communicate on my blog. Admittedly, my blogging friends tend to think more like myself, but that should not stop me from committing time and energy to enjoying others - despite our increasing differences. We learn from differences. We learn tolerance, we learn to care about others besides ourselves, and we learn that flesh and blood hurts when it falls.

27 comments:

Angella Lister said...

Nancy, a fascinating post. I've been thinking a lot about this myself. Yes, our lives are full of being busy, and a lot of that busy happens in front of a computer screen, so it is tempting to get our community needs met there, through blogging, facebooking, emailing. But there is really no substitute as you say for the flesh and blood connection to real world loved ones. thank you for making this thought more conscious in me. as always, you give me the occasion to reflect.

Angella Lister said...

and i hope your daughter is okay.

Brian Miller said...

i hear you it becomes very easy to use our digital connections as a placebo for real life...

California Girl said...

My response is "Yes we are."

Nancy said...
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Nancy said...
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Nancy said...

I had to delete my last two comments due to so many typos!!

Angela - Thank you, she is fine. She felt the response was not normal for Portlanders, nor other human beings for that matter, which left her to wonder - what is going on?

Brian - It is SO easy!

California - It creepy considering how quickly it seems to be happening. I really do think it is rewiring our brains.

JeannetteLS said...

I'm afraid that I think it's construction workers, not digitization. A similar incident happened to me about thirty years ago, when I tripped in front of a crew. Instead of asking whether I was okay, they whistled at me because my skirt hiked up...

That being said, I DO think that many people are paying more attention to their digital communications than people. Teenage girls visiting my friend's daughter's house were texting one another while they watched a movie together...

And I have actually heard a person say to another friend of mine that if G. would only get a Facebook account they could communicate more. She never makes dates by phone.

Something has run amok. I do think that some of the people I've met in the blogosphere have virtually fed my very real writing and painting. Not so much with FB. We need to be more discriminating.

And I don't care what anyone says, a virtual ice cream cone just is NOT the same. Neither is a virtual hug. Strange new world indeed.

Jayne Martin said...

This would make an interesting letter-to-the-editor of your local paper. I think you're absolutely right and worry about a generation raised primarily in the digital world.

DJan said...

The world is changing faster than we can adapt. I tend to agree that in other situations people would have helped your daughter, why it was this way must be the construction workers might have felt it "wasn't their job." How many times have I read about similar situations? Dozens... We are no longer good samaritans to one another. :-(

susan said...

I'm very sorry to read about your daughter's accident and the worse fact of nobody coming to her assistance. It's far easier to get over physical injury than it is to face the empty eyes of witnesses who could have helped. I agree too that in earlier days it was more important for people to get over family tiffs.

Many people have become "wired" to use their tech gadgets effectively in order to multi-task -- staying connected with friends, texting and searching online endlessly, often exposing their brains to shocking and sensational images and videos. Many people are desensitizing their neural circuits to the horrors they see, while not getting much, if any, off-line training in empathic skills. You have good reason to worry but I wish it weren't so.

karena said...

I'm hoping your daughter is okay first off...and agree with you very much so on the zombie issue...but I think there is something else in play here that I've noticed with my own family members...and that's the use of pharmaceuticals, especially those for depression. My sister had to come off of them because she found she couldn't cry, not even when she was watching a touching and moving film. I would love to know the statistics of just how many people use pharmaceuticals...and i know it's not a popular subject with people. They get pretty defensive when you threaten the use of them. When I use just friends and family as a reference...I can see personality changes of indifference in many of them. Zombie like changes. Definitely computer games, and internet usage are at play as well though. Digital Zombies...yikes! I had the need to tune out recently for just this reason.
I'm sorry that happened to your daughter, and glad it wasn't worse. Hope she's okay.

Nancy said...

Jeannette - Wow - texting a person right next to you during a movie. It doesn't any more digital than that.

Jayne - I'm starting to get concerned. Especially for children who do not have access to the natural world.

DJan - What is worrisome is what happens if we really need each other in an emergency situation?

Susan - Very well put.

Karena - I totally agree. Flat affect - not showing the proper emotions is a byproduct of antidepressants. With the problems in our world and the doctors pushing these drugs - is it any wonder people do not respond in appropriate ways? I remember my doctor telling me to take Prozac "like vitamins" for menopausal symptoms. I could only handle a couple of months. It was just too weird to not feel anything.

T said...

Hope your daughter is okay!

I think many people are desensitized, but not necessarily because of computers or the internet or video games. After all, the Internet and social media are playing a huge role in occupy wall street...and they played a huge part in protests in the mideast.

We don't lose our humanity just because of computers. We either have compassion or we don't. Chances are the people who saw your daughter in this situation would have reacted the same way in the 80s or the 70s.

Cloudia said...

balance is my dance:

digital & IRL


Warm Aloha from Honolulu;

Comfort Spiral



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Cloudia said...

hope your girl is OK!

Nancy said...

T - I think Occupy Wallstreet is not so much a personal connection as a political statement, and in that sense digital media plays a positive role. I sense something different about people these days. It seems as though there is less chivalry, less consideration to people one doesn't know personally. Less looking behind themselves to make sure the door is not slamming in someone's face - that sort of thing. I think it is part of the issues relating to road rage. It's the depersonalization. Are we less sensitive because we are bombarded with digtal images and information? I don't know. Maybe I'm just romanticizing the past.

Cloudia - Balance is what it's about. She's fine, thanks.

Deborah said...

I'm pretty appalled at the lack of reaction to your daughter's accident. I don;t know what to blame for that, but it's possible that your theory is correct. I guess I'd prefer that over the idea that these people are just heartless.

And for similar reasons, I have also withdrawn a bit from blogging. I like the sense of community, but sometimes it doesn't feel quite real. It's tricky to keep a balance between the cyber world and the other one - not that the cyber world isn't real, too. My ambivalence comes and goes, but on the whole, I have gained and learned a lot from bloggers like you, Nancy.

Grandmother said...

I'm so sorry your daughter was hurt and then had no one to help her- makes an accident even worse. I don't have answers other than to renew my awareness that we matter to each other and face to face contact and caring is vital.

Hilary said...

There is an absolute disconnect. I don't know that it entirely has to do with a digitalized life but I'm sure that's part of it. Much like in the video of your previous post, folks need to reconnect to nature and the world around them... to notice more. To notice each other. To appreciate.. to care. Too many seem to connect well with things. Acquiring things. Protecting things.

Nancy said...

Deborah - I have to admit to an addiction to instant information and connection - one that I've realized I need to step back from and get some balance. I do not have Facebook or Twitter, nor do I text message from my phone except on rare occassions, and I still feel addicted. What is all of this digital time doing to minds that are still developing, I wonder?

Grandmother - Good thought. It begins one person at a time. It begins with self.

Hilary - Exactly.

ds said...

Excellent point. I'm disgusted by the reaction to your daughter's accident--and relieved that she is okay.
It is too easy to become sucked into cyberspace; sometimes it does feel more "real" than the living, breathing world around us. I adore my blogging friends, but confess that I'm happiest on the days when I am completely "unplugged."
Thanks, Nancy!

Nancy said...

ds - I feel the same way - unfortunately I've not had those days of being completely unplugged yet. I'm a work in progress. :-)

ellen abbott said...

I don't know. I think people who are outgoing and entertain still do all that, still do people to people. but those of us who aren't so inclined, like me, have found more connections via the digital world. if it weren't for that, I probably would have very little contact with other people.

and I think it's living in cities that desensitizes us. the disconnect with the natural world, the urban landscape, the being surrounded by too many people all the time.

there have always been movies about war and westerns and horror where we see/saw people hurt but not hurt, blood or no blood, dead but no pain or repercussions. And the cartoons we watched as kids, people and creatures getting blown up and maimed and then there they are whole again. I don't think the current incarnation in the digital world is any worse than what we grew up with. sometimes the natural response to seeing an accident is laughter. At least when I was a kid I laughed when my brother was water skiing and slammed into the bank and flipped in the air. Fortunately he wasn't hurt but I didn't laugh because I was heartless but because of the shock and cartoon quality of it.

and yes, my son and DIL will sit next to each other doing their individual surfing or watching videos and they will text each other instead of speaking but why is that bad? they are still together physically and they are communicating.

Nancy said...

Ellen - I've been outgoing my whole life and have been much less so since being so involved digitally. It really can be an alternative that is so much easier than face to face. Much less mess to clean up. :-)

karena said...

I just realized that I must be pretty insensitive as well...here I am dissing internet use...when We have lost a man who was one of the greatest thinkers and innovators of our time. A tool I use daily and probably take for granted the efforts that went into producing my MacBook. As I have been listening to the many Steve Jobs quotes...I realize we have lost a very special human being. I am saddened by his death. I don't think Steve intended for digital zombies...but rather to help us live our daily lives in a much easier way. I'm sure from the many times he's spoke of balance in life that he meant this for our use of the internet as well. Peace out Steve.

Nancy said...

Karena - I agree. He was a visionary and was one of a kind! He will be missed by many. (I love all of my Apple products!) It isn't his fault I have an addictive personality!