But What’s Really so Bad About Cellphones?

Culture

Prior to reading one of Nicholas Carr’s pieces, Is Google Making Us Stupid, I had little interest in technology and was ultimately unconvinced Google was making me stupid.

In his essay, Carr discusses how everyday internet usage not only causes attention loss but also destroys our culture. This instantly sparked my interest in technology, as prior to reading Carr I believed that the topic of technology was for highly technical people and scientist types, which I am not. However, from reading only one of his pieces, I realized I was very interested in technology. At least it’s effects on culture.

Growing up, my friends and I were given iPads as young as five years old, and our dependence on technology only continues to grow. As we got older, adults in our lives, such as parents and teachers, realized that this was a topic they needed to address with regularity. However, for most of us, these “discussions” ended up resulting in lectures about our addiction to technology without explaining why we were addicted or what the cost of our tech use might actually be.

So, Are There Any Resources That Explain the Why?

So, while teens might appreciate the attempt to help us, we are still left feeling lost and uneducated on the consequences of technology. Some teens may be satisfied not knowing how our use of technology impacts their lives. But, for those of you who want to know more about technology’s impact on society, Nicholas Carr is one of the most accessible resources available.

Nicholas Carr, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer whose work focuses on the intersection of economics, technology, and culture. He writes about the impact of technology on society and provides deep insight into the consequences of this in our daily lives.

From his Atlantic articles to his blog, his writing is widely available and incredibly clear. His arguments may require some attention, but his style of writing is for a wide audience, so if the teenage reader is willing to put in a little time and effort, they will certainly understand much that there is to know on that topic. Unlike a lot of specialist writing, which can be full of big vocabulary and feels unclear, Carr’s journalistic style makes his arguments available to any teenager who cares about educating themselves on the consequences of technology: both the good and the bad.

Why Should Teenagers Care?

As the next generation of voters, our democracy should be incredibly important to us, a topic I’ve addressed more fully here. And in some of his work, Nicholas Carr illustrates how technology is detrimental to democracy. In Is Google Making Us Stupid, Carr discusses the detrimental impacts that overstimulation has had on society, drastically limiting our attention spans and destroying our culture.

Therefore, because we are the generation of the future, we need to learn about technology and how it is shaping us because its social effects impact the future of our democracy. And one major trend that teens should know about is the way in which technology has literally changed how we communicate. Or no longer communicate.

Due to overstimulation, Carr explains that many students no longer read books in or out of English class, preventing them from comprehending real ideas. In a nutshell, people no longer know how to communicate. Ironically, many tech devices like cell phones were originally intended to foster communication, but they have destroyed our ability to communicate well.

Over-stimulation has not improved our social skills, but has caused us to develop a sense of reliance on these technological devices, preventing us from existing outside the digital world. Instead of technology enhancing real-world communication, it has become a replacement for in-person interaction altogether. While the current global pandemic may have forced some form of a reliance on technology in order to continue communicating with one another, his article was published pre-covid, when this trend was already present.

Well before the world went virtual, technology already prevented us from interacting with our peers, causing many teenagers to dodge in-person conversations with friends, sending a text instead. Back when school was fully in-person, many students would avoid the simple conversation with a peer only a few feet away in order to avoid the social interaction and send a text later on. While the content of the texts are likely the same as in-person conversations, the act of avoiding interaction with peers is destroying personal relationships.

As Carr points out, overstimulation via digital devices has destroyed literature, not only halting people’s desires to read, but even more so destroying the way in which we interact with one another. We are so used to instant gratification and amusement, that phones replaced reading as a leisurely activity. Phones also made communication happen quickly. A text, initially, was this short-cut version of communication; however, the convenience of sending a text allowed it to quickly replace real conversations. Unfortunately, texting became the sole form of communication, and

Our social structures are being completely warped, as technology is taking over what used to be in-person conversations, and will likely hinder our interactions with our employers in the future. We are the first generation to be fully integrated with technology and we need assistance from adults in order to navigate this fairly new world. While many adults ridicule us rather than guide us, Nicholas Carr is a great resource for teenagers interested in understanding how technology’s impacts on our lives and culture directly impacts our personal success. Given that our generation is literally the future-meaning we will hold jobs and positions of power in the coming years-Carr’s work should entice us. And it should definitely concern us.

Sammy Kelner
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Sammy Kelner is a high school junior who is very passionate about politics and social justice issues. She is the founder and president of her school’s Key Club and has a podcast called Politically Blonde. She is also a contributing editor for the Marginalia Review of Books and was awarded a 2021-2022 internship with the Writing College at The Women's Writing Institute. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, traveling, and going to the beach.