Very often we find ourselves biased against things different to how we have done things in the past.
It is important to realize that tech and what we easily refer to as “tech addiction” is not a monolith of experiences and that the term also often gets inaccurately overused as a proxy to refer to the prevalence of tech integration in our lives, which we often assume means that people are addicted.
At the same time, there are certainly people with various types of addiction-related to tech, I also go into an example of this in explaining how I overcame my 13-14 year-long facebook addiction, but tech prevalence, curiosity/interest and even the social peer pressure to adapt to tech integration do not necessarily equate to tech addiction, or even necessarily something unhealthy, particularly given how essential tech is to the better functioning of society.
Where a tool becomes a game-changing mechanism to our quality of life and survival physically, psychologically and our freedom (particularly if we are dependent on someone else for transportation or permission to go out, as many young people are, or on digital financial systems to mitigate the risk and disruption of needing cash) this might be more comparable to saying that surgeons are “addicted” to the use of surgical tools and anaesthetics on patients rather than good old fashioned dexterity - not all tools can be easily replaced with a “natural” alternative.
Fear of new tech as "unnatural" and damaging to our health is not new but consistent throughout history
Although it can be tempting to disregard so much time spent using modern tech itself as “unnatural” and presumably unhealthy to our development, such as the prevalence of smartphones occupying (particularly younger) people’s attention instead of “natural communication”, which can naturally be concerning for those of us old enough to remember things being different, just as it was for many older generations seeing their Millennial children playing video games instead of outdoors as being destructive to their ability to interact with the “real world”, (despite flight simulators and VR for brain surgery training being now used to teach real-world scenarios while mitigating risk), or THEIR parents’ generations seeing the prevalence of televisions, seen as a “disruptor of the imagination, unlike books”, or, as Adam Connover humorously discusses, how historical figures like Socrates saw the written word as harmful to the memory and how Conrad Gessner saw too many books as “harmful” to the mind.
“Tech” is a newer and intentionally more efficient solution to an emerging or existent problem.
What we label “tech” is thus relative to what is considered established enough to be “traditional”.
But whether consisting of a writing system, book medium or digital devices, tech is often the means to solving a problem, not the problem itself (unless we see losing written knowledge as a preferable alternative to having to deal with its preservation in digital big data).
It is also worth questioning our end goal in terms of why we see tech reduction as a particularly important goal compared to, say, reducing the amount of reading people do, improving a need for memorisation over writing, or avoiding as far as possible the “unnatural” environment of bars and clubs. If we assess these things we may notice that our biases are being affected by changing cultures around us, and older advancements become more normalised (computer games now increasingly being seen as more social, educational and artistic and also a lucrative source of income) while newer things become demonised (smartphones being seen as antisocial and youtube creating an “ADHD generation” despite the lack of evidence for this).
Carl Sagan wrote a very aptly named book, The Demon-Haunted World on this phenomenon of the demonisation and fearmongering of new discoveries throughout history (albeit from a scientific discovery rather than digital technological perspective). These fears are often overblown at a political level due to challenging the existing status quo in the form of “witch hunts”. Just like actual witch hunts were a means of maintaining religious control over people rebelling against churches, modern tech is often demonised and easily falls victim to humanity’s easier fear of the unknown overpowering the desire to investigate with scepticism. We see this most recently through anti-vaccine rhetoric, where many people fall prey to the Inactivity Bias in seeing the absence of vaccines as a safer option rather than viewing allowing the presence of Covid-19 as also an active and more dangerous choice.
This fear of novelty phenomenon is also possibly why, as I explain here, the incorrect belief developed that myopia was caused through eye strain and heavily investigated despite exhaustive causative studies failing to show this, optometrists often caution against excessive screen use “just in case”, and why many people prefer a “natural remedy” regardless of whether this alternative is shown to actually be healthier OR more effective.
Curiosity, utilising tools and socially sharing information are natural drives necessary to species adaption and survival
To more directly contrast the notion that tech is “unnatural” to our development it could be argued that similar to other usages of tools and inventions of the past, this can also be a necessary adaption to the information age, as finding a more efficient way to do things has helped us as humans to evolve as a society and we see it frequently demonstrated in other life forms.
The instinct to play with new and curiosity-inducing things, where dopamine fuels our desire for learning as we discover new interesting things, is key to species evolution: while fear of unknown threats has often kept us alive in the short term, curiosity in studying new phenomena has kept species able to adapt and survive long-term to larger threats.
Our social desire for information sharing about the new knowledge we gain is very much an important part of our adaption as a species.
Perhaps a great non-human example of this is how whales have adapted to survive through observation and information sharing with each other.
One example of this is how throughout history sperm whales adapted and taught each other evasive techniques against whalers.
Other examples are how humpback whales and killer whales adapted and communicated hunting strategies which, as the killer whale link mentions, also trigger genetic changes to adapt.
As an additional interesting anecdote to these studies, this pod of killer whales, appear to demonstrate a more targeted approach against a human boat as they surround it and one of them removes most of the boat rudder before they leave, still allowing enough rudder for the boat to make it home. Killer whales have been shown to be highly intelligent and highly coordinated pack hunters, and can easily hole and sink a boat like the one in the video. Given all this and that and that they do not eat humans, the care and coordination seem intended to surround, intimidate and damage the human vessel, but allow them to return as a territorial warning to other vessels, similarly to how the sperm whales relayed evasive techniques to each other.
Digital and telecommunications literacy as the necessary adaptation to function in a changing modern society
If we look at how integral rapid tech communication and learning is to our survival nowadays, similarly to how whales and other life forms adapt through curiosity about the world, it makes sense that this natural curiosity or “addiction” to new information and feedback about how we fit into the world evolved to facilitate survival and might not be entirely harmful when we consider how quickly children learn, and how older people automatically ask younger people to help them with the newest tech through the automatic assumption that they have adapted to the latest technological challenges and communicated these effectively with each other.
Similarly, many of us have had to educate parents and grandparents about phishing scams, safer passwords and social media awareness and privacy protection, among other technological dangers. TikTok seems to have overtaken Youtube as a fast means of efficiently communicating educational information given the attention economy is limited due to information overload, and traditional print media news outlets and publishing companies which have failed to adapt to digital media communications have found themselves becoming obsolete.
Perhaps we should view this as a necessary species adaption to the more currently relevant skills of adaption rather than a “loss” of attention.
Just as with the ability to write down information we outsourced our long term memory from oral tradition into the long-term storage of books and digitally stored media to free up our focus onto new contexts of information as needed rather than requiring a troupe of minstrels to memorise and recite Homer, so we could see rapid context switching and media alertness as more important adaptions than sustained concentration, especially for younger generations, to handle frequent and rapid changes, which are often far more prevalent in our lives.
The phrase “information is power” is still highly relevant to our survival today just as it has always been albeit with faster adaption cycles to more rapid changes in knowledge and ways to share it, and the information-sharing capabilities of tech have most evident recently during the pandemic in the vital development of medical technology and of information sharing surrounding means to remain safe from and track developments of the virus.
Tech integration is essential as an ever-growing part of what constitutes our survival in the world- there is an increasing real-world need to understand and utilise digital communications, the internet and online security, ideally long before we are old enough to post on those platforms or operate an online account let alone own a credit card, and the massive demand for workers skilled in the digital economy.
The need to adapt to other ways of living and digital telecommunications’ vital role in this.
By extension, it makes sense that since children need to learn through frequent exposure to walk, expand their reading vocabulary, and learn hand-eye coordination, build a sense of social etiquette and general safety and navigation, so they would need to learn to keep “streetwise” with tech in terms of its usage, information parsing and safety, particularly as being tech-illiterate or disconnected from access to tech is becoming more and more of a handicap to opportunity and survival in modern society.
As mentioned, I am obviously not saying that tech addiction is not possible or a concern, but possibly that we need to consider our biases against tech which can make us conflate tech integration with addiction, as something automatically harmful and destructive and also unnecessary, due to those natural tendencies to fear new phenomena.
Rather I would like to zone in where we do see harms, such as a lack of daylight, to what the actual underlying causes are, similarly to the myopia topic, in order to ascertain whether we are solving the correct problem, or addressing a correlation by association or proximity without addressing the real underlying cause or real underlying harms that exist, similarly to the focus (‘scuse the pun) of screens and near work as a cause of some types of myopia rather than what turns out to be a far more easily solved problem of simply getting enough daylight, which is also much easier to solve as one can do even digital work outside or by simply making the habit of taking lunch breaks outside.
We may find that embracing tech, albeit more accessible and less demanding tech, is one possible and more sustainable option so long as we meet our minimal exercise, health, daylight and rest quota. Connected tech and the information it grants us access to is constantly evolving to help us to do this in an ever more busy world through the feedback of less demanding wellness devices such as smart jewellery, to monitor our fitness and health such as heart rate, sleep, stress, etc.
Distancing ourselves from tech is not always an option but is increasingly becoming more and more of a luxury.
As @Povilas S mentioned, tech is very much a part of our lives, and distancing ourselves from it can be like going back in time. This was something we probably couldn’t have done so easily with the pressure of the pandemic, with the need for social distancing and digital collaboration, but which is certainly a very novel and educational experience, and as I commented here on @Darko Savic’s CC for No-Screen Sundays, a very important tool for mindfulness and self-care, and such constraints can even be a necessary constraint to force us to prioritise and enforce these things rather than seeing them as an afterthought. I am starting to see taking a break from tech no longer as a lifestyle, but more as a form of rest and recuperation, similarly to what a weekend used to be, but more in line with our more erratic human needs for availability, where many of us can’t all go “off duty” from connectivity at the same time and ultimately need some level of compromise which is less invasive during those times of being “on-call” with the world.