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Ever worry that your toaster might decide it’s tired of eating bread, grow fangs, and come after you in the quiet of night?

Maybe not. But the idea of new technology hurting us is a concept which humanity has been discussing since Frankenstein’s monster in the early 1800’s. More recently, films like The Terminator (1984) and The Matrix (1999) which feature machines dominating the future human race, have continued to boom with popularity, and it’s easy to see why. Technology continues to develop at an astonishing rate, and many people feel left behind.

I can hear you saying: “Wait just a second friend! I really like my toaster!”

Don’t worry. We probably don’t need to fret about being subservient to robot overlords. There are simpler, more realistic concerns worth discussing when it comes to our evolving tech world. The 2008 Pixar film, WALL-E, displays a subtler version of the future, one where we may find technology hurting us in less obvious ways, but its similarity to current reality may be more startling than Arnold Schwarzenegger pushing an Uzi in your face.

Is Technology Hurting Us?

In WALL-E, the humans of the future are portrayed as obese mindless consumers on an endless cruise in outer space. They sit complacent in automated chairs, and their technology habits keep them sedated and disengaged from the world around them, aside from drinking a food-like substance out of a straw.

They remain continuously plugged into a virtual world, to the point where people are communicating with each other through the holographic screens in front of them, even while sitting directly next to each other. They spend their time with technology frivolously; playing virtual games and socializing with people they never see face-to-face. Meanwhile, the Earth below lies in ruin, and no one has any desire to try to revive it.

It would be nice to shake-off a film like this as mere fiction, but when looking at the habits of humans today, it isn’t hard to see our current technology hurting us:

  • The obesity rate in America is the highest in the world, and that number continues to rise. According to Public Health there are a few reasons for the obesity problem in America. Rises in fast food sales correlate to a rise in body mass index, and Americans have a love affair with those greasy, paper bags that are often eaten on the go and/or in the car, eerily similar to the quick and easy “Food-In-A-Cup” from WALL-E. Fast food makes up about 11 percent of the average American diet. Other studies note that added sugars from soda and energy drinks continue to expand American waistlines. Inactivity is also one of the major reasons for the rise of obesity. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), nearly 80 percent of adult Americans do not get the recommended amounts of exercise they need each week. Along with changing job activities, a growing consensus as to the reason for inactivity in Americans has to do with technology.
  • According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January 2018, because of the increased use of tablets and smartphones, 26 percent of American adults admitted that they go online “almost constantly.” That number is up from 21 percent in 2015. The research also indicated that 77 percent of Americans go online daily. The term phubbing (snubbing others in favor of your phone) isn’t going away anytime soon.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics, in 2011, estimated that the average child often spends up to seven hours every day watching television, browsing the internet or playing video games. The same article shows that there are “unhealthy eating practices learned from both the programming and the advertisements for unhealthy foods.” The effectiveness of advertising today has made startling progression: beginning with ad men like Don Draper, selling house appliances and cigarettes by taking advantage of humanity’s primal desires, and developing into the sophisticated targeted advertising now used as companies have access to people’s browser and purchase histories. The sedentary lifestyles learned at this young age through unhealthy relations with technology stay with the children into adulthood, and the advertisements only get more advanced.

WALL-E Infographic

These bad technology habits are glaring us in the face. If we don’t want to live in a society like the dystopia of WALL-E, then it is important that we look at what we can do to change our technology habits, so that rather than being controlled by evolving technology, we control it.

According to a 2018 Independent Task Force report sponsored by the (CFR) Council on Foreign Relations, “Accelerating technological change will alter or eliminate many human jobs. Although many new jobs will be created, the higher-paying ones will require greater levels of education and training. In the absence of mitigating policies, automation and artificial intelligence are likely to exacerbate inequality and leave more Americans behind.”

Good Technology Habits

So, with all of those scary statistics, you may now be wondering if your toaster really is out to get you. Again, don’t fret! Even as we find ourselves engulfed by the tech world, we can develop plenty of good habits to help keep our minds sharp, and not live with the apprehension of technology hurting us.

In education, the use of technology is no longer a convenience, it is a necessity. Employers expect new hires to be well-trained in using relevant technologies. According to a 2017 article in the Pediatrics Child Health journal put forth by the Oxford University Press, early research indicates that certain technology habits help children retain taught information more effectively.

The AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) bulletin reported research which shows that younger brains can process information more quickly than previous generations, and can transition from tasks more easily. People who grew up in the modern tech era are better conditioned for the constant switching that occurs between various tech devices and open windows. However, older adults tend to be superior in focusing and holding longer attention spans.

Between both articles, an overlap of good tech habits are provided below which everyone should be able to stick to:

  • Screen time for children younger than two years is not recommended.
  • Ensure that sedentary screen time (mindless programming or gaming) is not routine.
  • Maintain daily screen-free times, for communal meals and book reading.
  • Avoid screens for at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Turn off screens when not in use / avoid background TV.
  • Choose healthy alternatives to screen time such as outdoor activities.
  • Play an instrument or meditate uninterrupted for 30 minutes a day.
  • Learn another language.
  • Regular breaks for stretching and screen-free time (at the office).

The main thing to remember, when trying to cultivate good technology habits, is to be mindful of the fact that technology is a tool. According to the CFR, embracing technological innovation and speeding its adoption are critical for United States’ national security and economic competitiveness. To secure our nation’s place as a technical innovation hearth, it is crucial to educate people about developing technologies and maintain healthy tech habits.

So, rather than the apocalyptic notion of a new technology hurting us, we should learn more about our toasters so they can’t attack us in our sleep.

Good Technology Habits in Corrections

Because it is so crucial to cultivate these good habits, access to the newest technologies is also necessary. This becomes very difficult for citizens who are imprisoned who have limited access to these technologies.

Whenever a new technology concept emerges, there’s a warming-up period for the general public to become comfortable using it. For inmates trying to find a job when leaving prison, everyone else is already a step ahead of them when it comes to the technology game.

There have been many cases of inmates leaving prison, overwhelmed by how advanced modern computers have become, who are reluctant to try to use them. Being connected to the latest technology allows people to increase online/tech skills, make connections, and improve confidence—all of which future employers appreciate.

According to various articles, including a Slate article by Mia Armstrong published June 2018, prisoners not having access to the evolving world of tech and social media causes an increase in recidivism.

Keeping prisoners up-to-date on current technologies through social media training, digital literacy programs, and access to coding courses, gives them better opportunities when jumping into the job market. Research conducted in 2016 by the RAND Corporation shows that “individuals who participate in any type of educational program while in prison are 43 percent less likely to return to prison.”

So, is technology hurting us? Nope, but just like in the movie WALL-E, it is affecting us. Technology is essential and beneficial to humanity. It all depends on whether or not we want to develop good habits.