Sunday, August 21, 2011

Post-digital age syndrome

I thought of blogging about this topic after seeing so many teenage patients the past two weeks.

To have that many teenage patients in my pediatric practice meant that I must be gazillion years old because these kids have practically grown up with me.

The experience I have gained over the years of pediatric practice has been a life changing one. Observing how many of my patients have grown to become teenagers and adults, to parents, has been one helluva roller coaster ride, so to speak.

The youth of today are very much different from our times. I'm quite sure that the more "senior" generation will agree with me that technological advancements has correlated with the current state of today's youth.

I call it the post-digital age syndrome.

Let's face it. Even the more "senior" generation (like me) benefits from the technological advancement and that the digital age has contributed immensely to providing information at our fingertips. No more trips to the library, no more having to wait for days for a response from our clients, no more going to the bank to pay the bills, no more having to make long distance calls that charge an arm and a leg in order to speak to our loved ones, no more having to go through third parties to make reservations, no need for the yellow pages - yup, with the new techie gadgets, you've even got email on the go.

The only difference between the technological advancements is the time frame.

Obviously, the pre-digital age syndrome people had the benefit of searching for information in a more medieval way such as trekking to the library or poring over the voluminous books available to read. The post-digital age people just google it and you can even do advanced or narrowed searches. The latter, however, has the drawback that by making the computer and the world wide web or Mr Google search information for you, the information provided may be one that is lacking or biased (some information may not be published and so you won't see it on the net, such as theses or dissertations of graduate school students, etc.). Many information seen on the internet may not necessarily be complete - such as summaries or abstracts being provided as sneak previews - and because getting the full original versions will require payment, a lot of us end up making conclusions based on these summaries - a case of what you see is what you get! What also is distracting is the fact that anything and everything is published on the internet. Discerning what is factual and true is difficult for those that are not experts in the field of interest. This has its major drawbacks especially in the field of medicine, where patients and parents google symptoms in search for diagnosis, without the benefit of adequate knowledge on how to discern the right information to arrive at the correct diagnosis and eventually how to manage the disease. The piecemeal or "chop-chop" knowledge has contributed to a general sense of misconception, confusion, and panic among patients in the self-search of information for disease states.

Indirectly, the post-digital age has contributed to the obesity I am seeing in the clinics. Kids are growing up with just their fingertips doing the exercise. Some can spend days and days in front of the computer or some gamely gadget (PSP, DS Lite, iPad, Celphone or what have you) or in front of the TV surfing channels. I've noticed families at dinner tables (especially in restaurants) with some of their kids having the headsets of their phones or gadgets hooked to their ears (often times to a deafening volume that I can hear it a mile away even in a mall). No conversation, no discussion, just a deafening silence of words except the chewing of food or the clanking of utensils or the sound effects of the gadgets. Ask them to move their butts and many youngsters complain about wasting time on menial exercise. It's more cool to be on Facebook or be Twitting rather than to be sweating out all that fat from those uncool junk food and supposed healthy iced teas that are nothing but a bunch of flavored teas filled with sugar to the hilt!

While the purchasing power of the peso has supposedly dipped because of inflation, in reality, the household expenditure has increased in the post-digital era because of the added expenses in gadgets and top-ups (loads) for their mobile phones, cable, additional gadgets and games (not including apps and other downloadable items) or even for the poorer members of society - time consumed in the internet cafes. Hard earned money that can go to buying added food (eggs, bread, rice or even chicken) is not enough because the need to apportion at least 10% (some families average 20%) of their monthly wages only to keep up withe the techies.

I am saddened by the fact that the post-digital age syndrome has created a void in many families with gadgets and electronic baby sitters substituting for parenthood. While I agree that "we owe, we owe so off to work we go" has been the prime mover of our economy, I'm sure that everyone will agree with me that the quality time we share with our kids has been relegated to having a gadget or some trek to the mall substitute a day in the park or biking with your kids on Sunday. Sitting down with them for their assignments is relegated to Kumon and sending off the 2 year old to a day care center has become a run-of-the-mill solution to introducing kids to basic education because mom needs to make a career out of her life.

I am not saying that the pre-digital age babies had better lives and are probably happier than the post-digital age ones. I'm putting into perspective the influence that the digital era has imposed on many of our lives. Even the older generation has had changing values and lifestyles because of the rapid technological advancements.

I have nothing against technological advancement. But we need to take into perspective the impact it makes on our lives.

There's a saying that "we cannot have our cake and eat it too". There must be a balancing act in our lives in this post-digital age syndrome that should make relationships, families and friends be one where we end up not being strangers at the end. There needs to be more physical and emotional involvement and investment by each one of us. We cannot make technological advancements dictate the pace and quality of living we have. Otherwise, we end up as slaves to them.

It would be sad that as each of one exits this world, even condolences are sent digitally instead of a simple show of respect with our presence during the wake or burial.

There are many people who have found less meaning to life in the post-digital age than in the pre-digital age. Perhaps the rapid pace of technology has contributed greatly to this meaningless world of existence. Perhaps the post-digital age has made many of us engage in nameless and faceless relationships even with our closest of friends and kins because we've simply not valued spending more quality time with them.

Sadly put, the post-digital age syndrome is a lonely one. It may be a great disappointment in our journey of life if we forget to stop and smell the roses along the way.

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