It’s been written before how harmful television is to our intelligence, motivation, and attention span. It is often called the “opiate of the masses”, and those who refer to it that way are absolutely correct. But we need to take this mentality of vigilance and expand it to encompass other forms of entertainment which are having a similarly harmful effect, though we may not want to admit it.
Even mainstream sources will admit that television is not the main opiate of this younger generation. At first glance, it seems wonderful! Younger people are no longer watching television, perhaps they will go out and live their lives now. But the fact of the matter is not that we have stopped consuming harmful electronic entertainment altogether, but rather that we have moved into several different types of equally or even more harmful entertainment. These other forms include Youtube/video streaming sites, video games – both on console and on PC, and fast-paced content aggregation sites, like Reddit and 4chan, which I will argue also shorten attention span and lower motivation.
There are plenty of people who will insist they do not watch television, who will wholeheartedly agree that television is harmful, but who will then proceed to watch two hours worth of three minute Youtube videos, as if this is somehow doing something more useful for their brain than television. I am guilty of this, as I’m sure many of you are, but it’s time to recognize that television and youtube are one and the same in terms of their effects on your attention span and freedom of thought. This is true especially now more than ever before since Google’s acquisition of Youtube. We need to keep in mind the recent behavior of this massive corporation, and be aware that perhaps they do not have our best interests in mind. Although it is slightly more difficult for the powers that be to push agendas via Youtube as opposed to television, Youtube is heavily censored, as you will find out if you ever try to post an intelligent politically dissident video. (of course, they are all too happy to host videos of brainwashed, christianized skinheads making fools of themselves on the street.)
It would be ignorant to say that video streaming sites do not have their uses, they are often the easiest place to view rare/banned documentaries, browse otherwise hard to find music easily, and have plenty of tutorials on useful things like fishnet making, exercises, knitting, food farming, etc. It is important, however, to pay attention to what exactly you are using Youtube for, and how much time per day you are using it. There is a big difference between having it booted up with an album for background music while you read or work, and watching an hour of remixed pop culture, two minute videos while your brain goes slack.
Video games have also been taking their toll on this younger generation. Expansive, immersive digital worlds, skinner boxes, and a false sense of accomplishment can lure otherwise naturally productive young people into vegetating for most of each day in front of a game – a game that has no bearing on real life. I have seen too many young men go down the drain of moba style games like LoL and DotA in particular. It starts with an occasional game every couple of days, and for many people turns into a constant obsession, one game after another, (each game lasting at least 20 minutes, but often up to 40 minutes! and these games do not allow you to abandon a game or they will ban you!) consumption of the incredible amount of media surrounding these games, and even in some cases spending large amounts of real money on digital items for the game!
I play video games myself, but I consciously try to limit myself on how much time I spend in-game. Too many times I’ve booted up Civ 5 only to find that 6 hours have passed and I didn’t get a single thing done in the prime hours of that day. Beware of microtransactions, beware of skinner boxes, and monitor how much time you spend on a video game. Perhaps set a time limit ahead of time so that you do not waste what precious little time you have in life, especially as a young person with their health in tact. I’ve been trying to transition into paper-based games; trading card games (but buying used cards off people who need the money), dungeons & dragons, and I eagerly anticipate the arrival of MYFAROG as well. Paper-based games give your eyes a break from the insomnia-inducing blue light of a computer screen, and allow you face to face human interaction, something that is becoming increasingly rare these days.
On a similar note, it’s worth tackling the issue of forums, and the recent rise of fast-paced content aggregators like Reddit and 4chan. Sites like these, as well as often the traditional message board, create a false sense of community and friendship with people you will likely never meet in person, which encourages you to pour your life and many hours of your day into these sites, while getting very little back from them. If you manage to make real-life companions from these sites, as I have once or twice before, then I congratulate you. These sites can also have their usefulness, but not to the point where it inhibits real social interaction. I moderate a small subreddit myself, but I see it for what it is, a gadget that makes it easy to collect information in one spot, not the sprawling social game these types of sites have been made out to be.
Just beware of becoming addicted to the sense of community you may feel you aren’t getting offline. Spending too much time on these sites lets your social skills get rusty, leading to social anxiety and feelings of alienation offline. It is a very dangerous thing for intelligent people to confine themselves and refrain from contributing to the world outside, but I see it happening far more than it should. If we ever want to witness a better society than what we have now, however, it is not only helpful, but it is imperative that we tear ourselves away from our computers, and involve ourselves in society.
It isn’t my intention to fear monger about technology, or to advise that we radically cut ourselves off from technology in general, but rather to encourage awareness of its effects, and call attention to the fact that these particular gadgets are hardly any healthier, and in some cases significantly more unhealthy, than the infamous television. Please remain aware of yourself and your habits, recognize the signs of technology addiction, exercise moderation, and sidestep what I see to be the biggest and most dangerous pitfall of our time.