If the Internet has given the world innumerable gifts, it has also given us a surfeit of problems, according to some tech experts. We know, of course, to watch out for the more dramatic risks that come with the anonymity and access of the virtual world, such as cyber-stalking, email scams and identity theft. But life on the Internet may carry subtler risks, including loss of work-life balance and a host of health problems associated with being too plugged in (think vision problems and sleep disorders). Here we’ve rounded up a handful of books to help you stay balanced while capitalizing on all of tech’s benefits.
Seek connection, not just connectedness
In “Alone Together,” MIT technology and society expert Sherry Turkedraws on 15 years of research to uncover how technology has affected our interpersonal relationships, from parent-child bonds to dating. She argues that the very technologies that aim to connect us—text messaging, social media, online dating websites, etc.—can leave us feeling isolated, misunderstood and fearful of intimacy. “In the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone,” she writes. Throughout the book, Turke offers insight into how we can distinguish the virtual connections that enhance our relationships from those that detract from their authenticity.
Inner peace happens offline
In this technology-focused guide to personal transformation, spiritual teacher Max Strom argues that technology—for all the endless opportunities and stimulation it provides—ultimately distracts one from the cultivating the kind of deep relation to his or her self that’s needed to lead a sacred life. With a focus on tuning out and slowing down, Strom lays out a three-part path to building and improving one’s “inner technology”: “Self-study”; “Live as if your time and your lifespan were the same thing”; and “Learn a daily regime that heals and empowers you, and practice it one hour a day.”
Step out of your comfort zone
Emory University English professor Mark Bauerlein’s provocatively titled book argues that the Internet—despite providing access to limitless stores of knowledge—actually encourages self-absorption, incuriosity and illiteracy, especially among those Generation Me-ers who have grown up on Google and Facebook. By surrounding themselves with streams of information that satisfy their immediate interests (their favorite blogs, news sources, the newsfeeds of friends, etc.), Bauerlein asserts that young people become “enmeshed in juvenile matters and secluded from adult realities.” His book offers a wakeup call to readers of all ages to be mindful of the dangers of digital solipsism.
4. The Shallows
Don’t mistake knowledge for intelligence
Another side effect of our unlimited access to information on the Internet is that we can binge on knowledge without necessarily improving our thinking. That’s the conceit of Nicholas Carr’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated “The Shallows,” which surveys the impact of technology on the human mind. Drawing on neurological as well as social research, Carr argues that the pace, immediacy and navigability of the Internet have changed not only how we procure information but how we think, as well. The result, he suggests, is a mind that’s absorptive without being critical and quick without being sharp. “For the last five centuries…the linear, literary mind has been at the center of art, science and society,” he writes. “It may soon be yesterday’s mind.” Adopting a balanced, open-minded view, Carr brings readers up to speed on the debate over technology’s benefits and drawbacks. By elucidating the ways that digital life may impair human thinking, he offers a way forward for those who wish to safeguard “the literary mind.”