Commentary: Negativity Instinct: The Screen’s Overlooked Benefits

The jet engine muffled to a hum, the plane’s wheels screeched on the runway, and the people seated beside me urgently began reaching for their pockets. As soon as the green seatbelt sign flashed off, everyone around me simultaneously lifted their smartphones to their faces.

In a society where smartphone use is becoming increasingly prevalent, the role of technology in our lives has become a pressing issue. Given the relatively recent birth of smartphones and social media, it only makes sense that their advent came with many controversial beliefs. Today, the discussions seem almost unilaterally centered on their harm. Ironically, the internet seems to be filled with countless speeches, articles, journals, and videos that criticize technology’s malicious effects on humans, especially on adolescents. After all, most critics seem to forget the fact that it is tech itself that has allowed their work to reach a greater audience. People are often caught in the whirlwind of those who conformingly condemn what’s new, leading them to easily overlook the equally abundant number of advancements that it has provided us with.

In his book “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World— and Why Things Are Better Than You Think,” author and physician Hans Rosling explains the phenomenon dubbed “negativity instinct” as “our instinct to notice the bad more than the good.” He claims that there are three distinct aspects to the “negativity instinct,” two of which are related to our misinterpretations of the past and the “selective reporting by journalists and activists.” Rosling’s statements seem uncannily representative of the situation regarding social media and technology. The news media and the general public tend to focus solely on the negative aspects, which in turn colors the consumers’ minds. We inadvertently take what technology has contributed to our society for granted and simply jump to the idea that it has impacted us in a starkly negative fashion.

Changing our viewpoint slightly, however, allows us to easily recognize technology’s benefits. For one, it has drastically improved communications. Thanks to instant messaging apps and other social media platforms, we can reach one another in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, with the help of technology, we have access to instant gratification. Amazon will deliver what you want in less than three days, and streaming services provide you with the latest multimedia content, accessible whenever you want, wherever you want.

R.Haltmaier/The Phillipian

Besides more conventional benefits of technology, however, it has also allowed a benefit that may not be as widely known. It has enabled students with special needs to access educational tools that are specially tailored to each individual—something that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. On a broader outlook, technology and social media has incited the creation of a fluid, digital first information outlet, allowing a seamless access to information. News travels faster than ever, and the internet allows us to obtain anything by simply “Googling.”

The benefits above may not seem grand or impressive at first glance. Some readers may even consider them to be trivial. Imagine, however, the effects of technology’s absence during a significant crisis, perhaps even one where civilian lives are potentially at stake. Today, in a world where the transportation of information is virtually fluid, the situation could be averted by means of quick and exigent communication. Without the aid of technology, however, the word “emergency” seems to be rendered futile and the consequences catastrophic.

Realizing the benefits helps shed light on how much we rely on technology during our everyday lives without actually recognizing what technology and social media has allowed for us. The ones pointed out above are just a few of them. The list continues on and on, and yet we manage to completely overlook it.

I am not claiming that social media and technology are purely beneficial assets to us; I acknowledge that they do have harmful effects. I am only suggesting that in a society where the digital world seems to grow more powerful day by day, we should consider re-shaping our perspectives to recognize the benefits that technological improvements have allowed. Perhaps the first step is to create new discussions more geared toward taking a balanced view of technology within Andover.

Steve Nam is a three-year Upper from Seoul, South Korea, and an Associate News Editor for The Phillipian. Contact the author at