I, Robot: Almeida Gives TEDxPhoenixville Talk on How Humans Become Robotic with Intense Computer Use

Posted on 11/13/2013 4:42:06 PM

Communications media professor Luis Almeida presented data showing how humans become robotic as they spend more time on computers at “To Be Determined,” the TEDxPhoenixville 2013 event held October 5 at the Colonial Theatre outside Philadelphia.

TEDx is the global series of locally hosted events affiliated with TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design), the nonprofit forum of conferences established in 1984 to promote “ideas worth spreading.”

TED and TEDx have been used as an idea-sharing platform by hundreds of creative thinkers, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos; 37signals founder Jason Fried; bestselling memoirist Elizabeth Gilbert; and crowdsourcing pioneer and Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn.

Videos of the live presentations are released free to the public; many have gone well over 1 million views.

In his six-minute talk, “Breaking Free of Technology,” at TEDxPhoenixville, Almeida gave a brief, provocative look at a new line of research he’s pursuing on the side effects of using computers. And he means more than wrist splints.

Sharing findings of a pilot study he conducted this fall of about 100 students, Almeida drew parallels between their responses and the concept of technology numbness hypothesized by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s.

For example, he found that 44 percent of respondents in his study said the limit to working on the computer is “mental exhaustion.” 

In addition, more than half of the respondents said they’re “always working.”

Almeida also noted his personal experience in working on computers, tablets, and smartphones excessively for years—until he “burned out” and had to change his approach to work. 

Continual working is an attribute of a machine, Almeida said, and it’s one of the manifestations of how humans are becoming robotic.

“We’re no longer 9-to-5, but instead 9-to-forever,” he said. “Are we exhausting ourselves just for the sake of technology?”

He suggested that burning out physically may be the only way for people to break through the numbness and change course.

Almeida will share further findings of his survey at the 2013 Lilly International Conference on College Teaching at Miami University, Oxford, OH, November 21-24. 

In a presentation titled “Modern Technostress in College Teaching,” he’ll discuss respondents’ reports that they only rarely stop working on a computer and feel a need to be constantly updated, among other behaviors that he argues result in a human robotic neurosis. 

—Deborah Klenotic