The Problem with Today’s Society

I have always enjoyed philosophical debates and pondering big problems and questions in the world. If you are ever unlucky enough to get involved in an extensive, in-depth conversation with me about anything related to finance, fitness/nutrition, physical therapy, or the current state of our society, you better watch out. Fortunately for most, this torture is usually only bestowed upon Whitney or the occasional unsuspecting patient trying to engage in casual conversation. I often find myself thinking very in-depth about broad questions, and for some reason this occurs most frequently in the gym. There is something about suffering through a grueling set of heavy deadlifts that makes me reflect not only on myself and my life but the world around me.

With all of that being said, here is what I was thinking about today through most of my workout and a topic that I have thought about extensively in the past. Why is there so much unhappiness, hatred, and violence in our world today? Although I haven’t been around a long time (I’m 27 right now), it seems to me that our society has been deteriorating in the past decade or so. I realize that there were points in time when things were probably much worse than they are now (for example the World Wars), but I feel that there has been a steady decline in happiness and an increase in violence in my lifetime. It seems like there are daily reports of some new tragedy in the world involving the deaths of multiple people. Much of this is blamed on terrorism, and probably rightfully so, but what about all of the other evil acts that seem to be commonplace? It is obvious that part of this is due to the fact that these crimes get more media attention than ever before, but I don’t think that is the full story. I find it extremely ironic that with all of the modern conveniences that we have these days, which make our lives easier, quality of life and happiness should be at all-time highs, but from my perspective that is clearly not the case.

My theory on this revolves around technology itself. I believe that technology which is made to improve our lives has actually done the opposite for many people as time has gone on. This may sound crazy to you, but hear me out. In the past, our predecessors had to constantly be working to meet their basic needs. They did not have nearly as much free time as we have today with all of our modern conveniences. This leaves us with a lot more time to think and reflect on our own lives (possibly at the gym like me J).

When I begin thinking about things like this I am always reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The two largest building blocks of his pyramid include physiological needs and safety. These are things like: food, water, clothing, shelter, etc. For most of us (living in the United States and other first world countries) these needs are met for us throughout our childhood and are relatively easy to meet in adulthood. In the past (200+ years ago) meeting these two levels of the pyramid could be very difficult and often involved significant amounts of time and effort. When those needs are met, we then move up to love/belonging. This is where I believe technology is having a detriment. I would imagine that I am in the majority when I say that face to face communication skills are fading quickly as people move toward text and social media conversations. It is not uncommon to see a family sitting at a restaurant with everyone completely quiet while looking down at their phones. This simply would not have occurred in the past. I understand that digital communication would also count as communication, but I have to believe that text messages do not create the same feeling of connection and belonging as face to face interaction. I believe that this can easily lead people (especially teenagers with raging hormones and emotions) to feel disconnected, misunderstood, and like they don’t belong. I also think that all of this is only a small piece of the puzzle.

When all of our basic needs are met and we don’t have any “real” problems (lack of food, lack of shelter, lack of clean drinking water), our insignificant problems seem to be a huge deal. I may not speak for everyone, but I know that I have gotten very frustrated due to traffic, upset because of a poor internet connection, or disheartened by a poor workout performance which puts a damper on my entire day. In the grand scheme of things, those problems are extremely insignificant, but they seem very big to us because they are at the forefront of our mind and all of our essential needs have already been met. We fall into the trap of not being able to see the big picture and how fortunate we really are for all that we have in our lives. So even though the biggest problem in our life is that our phone is slow compared to 500 years ago when the biggest problem was having not eaten for several days, we still get very stressed about these small problems. I don’t know what the solution to this is besides very frequent reminders of how fortunate we really are and taking time to stop and reflect on how insignificant our problems are in reality, but this is often neglected. But what else feeds into this?

So you might think, many of our modern conveniences have existed for several decades, so why would you claim that things suddenly have gotten worse in the past 10 years? This is very true; we have had more free time for a long time now, probably since the industrial revolution when daily tasks began getting easier. Why would there be more anger and violence now than there was 50 or 100 years ago? I think this again comes down to technology, but more specifically social media. In the past that extra time was likely spent with family, friends or learning, but now it seems that most of the extra time is squandered on useless superficial internet interactions. The amount of time wasted on social media itself is bad enough, but I believe that there is an even bigger issue with social media. For most people (myself included) social media is a highlight reel of sorts. This is not on purpose, but mostly by design. It is much more accepted and appreciated when people post positive things than when they post negative things. I frequently post pictures from weekend trips and cool places I visit, but I don’t post all of my daily inconveniences or problems. I believe this to be the case for most people. What this leads to is a news feed full of your friends’ best moments, which you then compare to your everyday life. This is not a fair comparison and leads to jealousy and feelings of inadequacy because your life is not as great as your friends’ lives seemingly are.

One more factor that I would like to mention is that with increased reliance on technology, there is a steady decline in activity levels. This leads to several movement issues that I deal with on a daily basis in the clinic, but it also leads to a decline in health and happiness from things like weight gain, minimal/no endorphin release from exercise, poor self-image, and chronic fatigue. It is no secret that the world as a whole is now faced with an obesity epidemic, and it is getting worse by the generation. Anyone that lives an active lifestyle knows how good it feels to exercise and be active not only because of the physical and health benefits but also from the sense of accomplishment. Sedentary people seem to not understand this or quickly forget this while citing the fact that they don’t have enough time to exercise, likely due to spending hours mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or watching TV.

I don’t believe that the problem is just one of the things that I mentioned but a combination of all of them. Extra free time is great if it is spent in positive ways but is extremely detrimental when spent comparing oneself to others, especially their “highlight reels.” Conveniences can be beneficial in the context of a busy, active life but are terrible when they lead to less activity and ultimately obesity and health problems. Social media can be a great way to stay in touch with people but can also be a slippery slope to attention seeking behaviors, comparisons to others, and depression. With all of these things combined, I can see how people would begin to feel disconnected and not good enough, which can easily lead to lashing out at others in varying degrees.

I have a bleak vision of the future, and I can’t see things getting any better as technology continues to advance and these problems are compounded. I honestly can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel on the path that our society is on, but I desperately hope that it is there somewhere. What is your opinion on this matter? Am I completely off base with my theory? I would love to hear differing opinions on this matter!

9 thoughts on “The Problem with Today’s Society

  1. Good topic and worth discussing. It seems to me that the rise in anger and discourtesy is related to the disconnect we feel from one another–which I suspect is partly due to a trick of the brain that makes it feel more rewarding in the short term to have superficial transient exchanges with people we’ve never met than to have mundane interactions with the people that we are slowly building deep and abiding relationships with.

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    • You’re right, Terry. Social media is an addiction and is designed to be that way because of the dopamine produced. We begin to believe that our everyday lives are boring (especially when comparing ourselves to others) and then seek attention and interaction elsewhere even though those interactions are far less fulfilling than when face to face.

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  2. Great post that asks a lot of important questions. I’m with you on the negative view/slow decline of our society. But I think it has been going on for much longer than 10 years – maybe since the industrial revolution?!?! I agree technology is a massive challenge. It has developed SO fast that I don’t think that we have kept up with it ethically (e.g. establishing moral/emotional rules around it). I know that people often think I’m being ridiculous when I get upset with people fiddling on their phone while talking to me. Basically, I think technology has eroded our QUALITY of communication/interaction – it’s made us think that we can read the news and spend time with our friends at the same time but the depth of connection can never be the same while trying to do two things at once. I also think that it has stopped us learning to be comfortable with our own company – whenever we are alone (or waiting for someone) what do we do? We pull out our phones and distract ourselves from ourselves. Ok, this has turned into a massive rant! Sorry! I don’t think that technology is innately evil. But I do think that it’s fundamental that we question and are aware of our relationship with technology and the impact it has on our lives. Last thing: technically our improved technology should have given us more time but I disagree with you because I don’t think that it has. All we have done is try to achieve and pack in more. Work days should have got shorter. They haven’t. If anything they have got longer. I blame the greed of capitalism for that but I won’t get myself into another rant!! 🙂

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    • Very good points and I love seeing other peoples rants 😀. Multitasking is a myth for most of the population yet we continue to believe that it is possible. All that happens when “multitasking” is rapid task switching that ultimately diminishes the quality of both of the tasks being performed. Having a conversation with someone while looking at your phone is a great example of that. The quality of that face to face interaction suffers (plus it’s extremely rude) but most people think that this is just fine and that they are being more time effective. I believe you are correct in saying that the real problem is with how quickly things have progressed technologically in comparison to how slowly we adapt/evolve as a species. If today’s technology has progressed slowly over a thousand years then we may have had a chance to keep up with it and learn how to use it correctly but with how quickly the Internet appears and progressed, we didn’t have a chance.

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  3. If people are so simple-minded that they can be negatively influenced by things that positively influence their lives – the problem isn’t the tools. It’s the people. The problem with humanity is that we, as species, are in our adolescence. Still very little reasoning capacity, emotionally driven by irrational thoughts and behaviors, convinced of our flawless wisdom lol. Almost all of our problems, are of our own creation.

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    • I agree with that completely but that is not something that we will be able to change. We are inherently selfish based on thousands of years of evolution. In the past, being selfish and greedy was needed to survive but these days those traits persist even though they are destroying us. Human nature will not change but technology and social media possibly could. Or at least I hope.

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  4. No, we’ll change. Laws and culture mold society, they often advance. Oh, I forgot to mention something that compromises your point.

    The currently dominant culture throughout the world is religion. Whether you partake in them or not, they irrefutably have long history of detrimental influence. Those activities nevertheless, consistently, repeat. But the internet, and the technology that allows access to it, provides an easily accessible log of humanity’s activities – both positive and negative.

    So, the technology that allows easy access to the net, allows access to our history. Thus can be a positive influence.

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  5. I agree with all of those things, but believe the root is even bigger. I think technology definitely can distance the degree of human “closeness” in our relationships and interactions with one another which is very important to a sense of belonging, love, and meaning. It also gives us more time and resources to collect and entertain ourselves with things and experiences which were never meant to satisfy us at the deepest level. This leaves us increasingly searching for fulfillment in the wrong places and discontent. C.S. Lewis said it best:

    ” It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

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