Out of Touch, Out of Time

 
 
By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2014-01-22
 
 
 
smart devices

A glance at new devices and products entering the marketplace pretty much confirms that we've entered the George Jetson era. From UltraHD televisions to hubs that manage and automate smart houses, technology is marching forward in ways that promise to change our lives more over the course of the next decade than in the previous history of humanity.

The one thing that isn't keeping up is our ability to process all the information streaming our way. You can manufacture smartphones, smart cars, smart watches, smart glasses, smart appliances and smart clothing, but you're still stuck with the inherent limitations of the human mind.

Most of us know the acronym TMI (too much information), but it increasingly seems as though we're heading into an era of WTMI (way too much information). Smart watches notify us when we receive a text on our smartphone, and apps alert us when our garage door is open or someone posts a comment on our Facebook feed. We're also beginning to see alerts, notifications and messages from cars, refrigerators, door locks, fitness bands, thermostats and more.

We're becoming Pavlovian dogs that respond to a never-ending cacophony of rings, dings and assorted other tones emanating from our devices. The droplet of dopamine and millisecond of pleasure we receive from a new post on our Facebook Timeline or Twitter feed become the equivalent of a chocolate doughnut with sprinkles.

Over time, the reward can become a substitute for experiencing genuine emotions and feelings—the basis of human understanding. There's a funny Louis C.K. video clip that touches on this point.

At the same time, our attention spans are growing shorter, we're becoming more and more distracted, and we witness a continual uptick in levels of anxiety and depression. What's more, there's growing evidence that the constant barrage of messages actually contributes to a decline in cognitive function.

And then there's the fact that we are increasingly gasping for time to manage all of our devices and apps—and perform tech support and triage on the daily array of tech glitches, breakdowns and full-fledge failures.

Of course, the thinking goes that further advances in technology will save us from technology—and presumably from ourselves. Let's hope so. If the past and present are any indication, the future appears to be one giant red alert.