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The Price You Pay

Dovid Sussman

Email. Text Messages. Cell Phones. Social Media. The Internet. What was supposed to make us more productive and happier has actually made us lonelier, scatterbrained, and less able to communicate.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

 :( Brenda Campbell was unhappy. Her husband’s business ventures had drawn him deep into the digital world of Internet and e-mail. He was becoming increasingly distant from his family and losing the ability to focus.

For his part, Mr. Campbell was well aware that his habits were rapidly spinning out of control, but the pull of his digital devices was overpowering. News updates distracted him from vital preparations for meetings; and games, text messages, and phone calls made him so absentminded that he forgot to pick up his children from their activities.

But when Mrs. Campbell was put to the test, she also found it difficult, or perhaps impossible, to resist the insistent call of her digital media. One day, she was baking cookies when her phone beeped, signaling the arrival of a text message. She went to check it, became engrossed by her social network, and only remembered the cookies when an acrid scent wafted in from the kitchen. She discarded the batch and started over again, only to have the scenario repeat itself.

This account, which falls somewhere on the spectrum between amusing and tragic, appeared in the New York Times in June 2010. But it is safe to assume that the Campbells’ experiences may be shared by millions of other Americans. We are all familiar with the sights that have, by now, become hallmarks of 21st-century life: parents on family outings ignoring their children while focusing on handheld devices, businessmen and students alike distracted from their work by the chime of an incoming text message, and even people in shul or the beis medrash surreptitiously stealing a glance at their e-mail. A 2012 study conducted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business found that the desire to log on to e-mail or social media is even harder for people to resist than the drive to consume alcohol or tobacco — a frightening indication of the psychological power of these media.

Media today is everywhere and always available. A study by theUniversityofSan Diegoshows that Americans consume 12 hours a day of media on average, as compared to five hours in 1960. All this visual stimulation isn’t making us more productive, either. Studies show that heavy multitaskers are less able to focus and more prone to stress.

Before making any investment, it’s always prudent to investigate the costs of the investment and weigh them against the potential benefits. We have all heard about the spiritual hazards of modern technology and about the importance of installing filters and other forms of protection to shield our neshamos. But even the most well-filtered system comes along with other hidden costs, as well — costs to our physical and psychological wellbeing, to our families, and to our relationships. So before you purchase that new smartphone or sign up for that new social media network, you might want to consider just what the “blessings” of modern technology are actually costing you. Here are just a few examples.


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