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Davis, California

Monday, June 24, 2024

Column: Addicted to URL

My last week consisted of restoring files after my computer decided it hated me, gave me that blue error screen of death and proceeded to have a major glitch in its operating system. After rushing it to the computer hospital and praying that it wasn’t going to die forever, I realized just how much of my life is contained on my hard drive.

Let’s be real. I could survive without the pictures from my seventeenth birthday party and cute photographs of my cats. But my computer had all the research I needed for my project that was due three days after it crashed. It had all the papers I had ever written. Our hard drives house gigabytes of memories and ideas, countless hours of hard work and not-so-hard work.

The fact that I might never again open “final draft resume.doc” or “spinsters report.pdf” felt dreadful, almost like losing a friend. The news that I could once again be reunited with my file friends after my computer was repaired brought on that peculiar happiness that comes with finding an old pair of sunglasses or that awesome Blink-182 CD you thought you had lost forever.

After the initial shock of almost losing my laptop to the Hades for motherboards, I felt strange for having such a strong attachment to an inanimate object. Is it healthy that our culture is so reliant on cold, hard machines? Are we on the path to an Asimov future full of rebel robots killing us?

Even thinking about how much the presence of computers in our daily lives has changed just over the past 10 years is crazy. The first iPod came out in Oct. 23, 2001. On Oct. 25, 2001, Windows XP was first released. Ten years ago, everyone who was cool used AOL, Dell was the top-selling PC maker and Facebook wouldn’t be founded for another three years. YouTube wasn’t founded until February 2005.

“So much of my life is consumed by Facebook, YouTube and Gmail, it’s weird to think that those weren’t around eight years ago,” says Meenal Tambe, a junior computer science major who spends most of her days in front of a computer screen.

A recent experiment called the world Unplugged looked at students from 12 universities in 10 countries, including students at the University of Maryland, to research how reliant we are on our beloved machines. The experiment concluded earlier this year that being cut off from computers, cell phones, iPods, television, radio and newspapers for just 24 hours can cause negative psychological and physical symptoms – symptoms associated with withdrawal.

The Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change sponsored the experiment and has different student reactions to media withdrawal posted on their website. Responses include: “I felt like a drug addict.” “I went into absolute panic mode.” “I feel paralyzed – almost handicapped in my ability to live.”

Only 21 percent of the voluntary participants realized the benefits that unplugging from media might bring. Cravings, mindlessly reaching for their phones or laptops, anxiety attacks and depression were reported by the students. Most suffered from information withdrawal syndrome.

The experiment is a good indicator of how much we rely on media just in our hour-to-hour lives. I know the only time I go more than a few hours without media is when I’m sleeping.

Professor David Nicholas, of the University College of London, has suggested that our generation, the “Facebook generation,” undergoes mental changes because of our insane amount of time spent surfing the web. After three years of research of British teenagers, he concluded that our brains are being rewired and our ability to concentrate is dwindling because of the “quick switch between pages” nature of the internet. Focusing on reading a book or writing a paper is supposedly getting harder and harder to do.

Neanderthals could survive without Google and Mozilla Firefox, so why can’t our generation do the same? Well, Homo sapiens, if we are to be successful and knowledgeable in this complex world, we need media. With so much information being thrown at us from all directions at all times, if you’re not plugged in, you’re left out. It’s not a good thing that most of us are addicted to media, but it is what it is.

Although our future might look like a horrific science fiction novel to some, I think it will be sunny and bright. We will stroll along hand-in-hand with our file friends, Facebook friends, Twitter followers and e-mails, waiting for the day the robots take over.

CORRIE JACOBS looks forward to the day she gets to move to Mars after the machines rule the Earth. Need to book a spot on her space shuttle? Reach her at cljacobs@ucdavis.edu.

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