Thursday, March 28, 2013

Technology and Connection

A recent article by Barbara Fredrickson in The New York Times, "Your Phone vs. Your Heart" (NYT, March 23, 2013) really captures the importance of social interaction and the impact of technology.
As Fredrickson (author of Possitivity and Love 2.0) points out:

"Plasticity, the propensity to be shaped by experience, isn’t limited to the brain. You already know that when you lead a sedentary life, your muscles atrophy to diminish your physical strength. What you may not know is that your habits of social connection also leave their own physical imprint on you.". . . .

Work in social genomics reveals that our personal histories of social connection or loneliness, for instance, alter how our genes are expressed within the cells of our immune system. New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression."

Something we've all probably suspected given how absorbed so many of us have become to phones, computers and other screens on mobile devices.

With the enormous push for technological efficiency as seen through online education, communications, photography, emails, I wonder about its impact on old fashioned face-to-face conversations. I recall a discussion years ago when I was working on an exhibit for a museum in Alaska. We were considering developing an expensive multimedia presentation that would tell the natural and cultural history of the region. Then the thought came: Why not just hire a local elder from to tell stories about the region to the museum visitors? It provides employment, is much more engaging and more affordable!

Similar decisions face us as we aim to solve problems using strictly a technological lens. There is a place for technological solutions, but comprehensive, enduring solutions call for a greater context which includes the social interaction and human well-being aspects.