Illustrations by Hannah Robinson

Instant gratification. A term fundamental to understanding our ever-increasingly digital society. It is impossible for our generation to imagine a society in which knowledge is not instantaneously and readily available. The idea of searching for information without using a tablet or device is implausible, and the breadth of knowledge available to us thanks to the internet is something that we seem to take entirely for granted. Given that technology is a relatively new idea, and we are unaware of the long-term consequences for society, might we be doing irreversible harm without us knowing?

The digitalisation of our lives has meant that we now outsource much of our own thinking and rely on devices to constantly notify and remind us. Scientists have coined the phrase ‘digital dementia’, defined as the ‘overindulgence on the internet, which causes cognitive impairment such as reduced attention and decreased memory span’.

We are told that using the internet broadens and expands our horizons, which to a certain extent it does. But is the internet simply allowing us to access more information, rather than making us smarter? Tools such as GPS and Google have created an illusion that our minds are working, when in reality, the information is more readily available to us, and we ourselves have done nothing to find it, besides type into a search bar. Technology has led to a reduction in independent thinking, and reliance on our devices. Knowledge is just a click away, and thus we may now be less inclined to actively learn, as everything is available at the click of a button. Constantly looking at the world through a smartphone results in us placing more trust in our devices than ourselves.

Similarly, social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have provided a space where people can project their lives for the world to see. It creates a subconsciously toxic thought process, which is very difficult to change. People are now so transfixed on their outward projection on social media that they now focus less on themselves, and the people who are truly close to them.

Social media has also created a whole new issue of ‘fake news’, and media manipulation. Echo chambers on different sites lead people to believe exactly what they want to believe and are therefore easily susceptible to any piece of information, regardless of the source. The Netflix documentary, ‘The Great Hack’ exposed this idea, by demonstrating the way in which Cambridge Analytica was hired by campaigns in order to influence voters through advertising, in both the US election, and Brexit vote. Similarly, there is no filter on the internet, that checks the reliability of facts and data, we have to do that digging ourselves. It creates shallower thinking—endless scrolling heavily decreases attention span.

The internet has, however, allowed society to evolve at a far quicker rate and has meant that a broader understanding of the world in which we live has become easier to understand. However, on an individual level, it is perhaps doing the opposite. Social media is often a distraction and it has now been proven that our attention spans are decreasing: a Microsoft study found that the average attention span decreased 12 to 8 seconds between 2000 and 2015.

Clearly a balance needs to be found, whereby society can use the internet to its advantage, and enhance its understanding of the world at a greater rate whilst also maintaining a degree of independent thought, without relying solely on the internet for information. It is essential that human life does not remain rooted to this idle, and surface level way of evolving and learning.