The Digital Age threatens human capacity for spatial reasoning

By Meredith Wagner | Web & Social Media Editor

How often do you use your sense of touch?

I remember resting on the edge of my grandfather’s mossy koi pond for hours, observing the slender fish swim about, occasionally braving a reach below the surface to feel their scales. I would collect sentiments of nature at each turn of the corner, finding marbles, feathers and shells buried just below the earth’s surface. I “helped” my parents plant a vegetable garden by collecting as many earthworms as I could find and building tiny dirt shelters to satisfy their real estate needs.

Children, in their innocence, are subject to being fascinated by the newness of their world, but modern adults seem to have lost this fascination with the physical world altogether. I don’t think “growing up” caused us to stop indulging in these curious urges to feel, touch and play. Growing up in the digital age did.

As we increasingly rely on 2D platforms to communicate with one another, we weaken our ability to manipulate 3D forms for personal use, a skill that dates back centuries and was once essential to human survival. For thousands of years, personally repurposing natural resources to fit one’s needs was an indispensable skill. Now, we can live our lives without ever having to construct a tool, to build a shelter or even to cook our own food. We can avoid true interaction with the world around us by means of a desk job, a steady salary and a cell phone.

Our spatial reasoning skills are threatened by excessive use of technology, inhibiting our ability to fully experience life as a multidimensional species. On the contrary, to unplug from a world that has shifted its means of communicating could harp true consequences.

One of my closest friends growing up recently recognized that technology was threatening his autonomy. He has since rid himself of the technological devices many of us find essential, including his cell phone. My only way of contacting this friend is now by hand-written letter. I haven’t heard from him in months. This is an extreme case of disconnecting from social media — one I don’t find beneficial. While this friend’s awareness on a regular basis is probably heightened with less digital distraction, it came at the cost of his personal relationships.

If it is essential that we be connected with one another online, but this connection also threatens our natural capacities, what are we to do? The best remedy to excessive screen time is to frequently disconnect by manipulating physical forms. Take a break and plant a garden. Play an instrument. Write with ink on card stock. Read a hard-copy book. To truly avoid digital chatter takes intentional goal-setting and focused efforts to reach those goals. Setting aside 20 minutes after an hour of screen time can help us to look up from the things that distract us, and, with consistency and patience, reimplement our sense of wonder — our abilities to feel and create in the real world.

As social media editor for the Lariat, I am at a crossroads of dimensions; I feel a moral obligation to tend to my digital work with care and precision. I also want to feel present in reality. I do find my work important, because it bridges the gap between those who write articles and those who read them. Social digital platforms allow great ideas to reach audiences of great numbers. But, as a human being who recognizes the importance of being conscious of my surroundings, I have to approach my screen with predetermined limitations. I consciously get my work done, and then I step away. I do what is required of me with focused care, and then I distance myself and look up at the sky.

My generation is the last that will have experienced a life without intense pressure to succumb to technological trends (I know we all reflect upon the 90’s with an aching nostalgia). It is up to us, then, to recognize these shifting patterns in behavior and preserve that which makes us human.

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