Is technology a help or hindrance? Does it facilitate our friendships or control our choices? I once heard a comedian say, “I dare you to take a dump without your iPhone.” The convenience of the world is constantly at our fingertips, and it’s hard to put it down. The information of our collective history, photos of Earth’s natural wonders, images from space, cute cat videos, babies dancing, or girls falling off tire swings are all available to us for free. We can communicate with colleagues in foreign lands or Skype with family across town. We can create, configure and imagine our lives to appear any way we choose on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and chat apps. The question remains, is it a good or bad thing?
We watched a video today from a charming young British lad, showing the averted eyes and consumed hands of our bodies whilst involved in Smartphone inebriation. He asserted that if we don’t observe our lives with our body and eyes and interact verbally, physically and emotionally we could miss out on the serendipitous occasions of life. He made a wonderfully complete and romanticized version of life as lived in the old fashioned way, i.e. talking to strangers and friends. Instead of playing on the phone, we could speak with someone on the subway, at the bus stop or in line at the DMV. I agree in theory that interaction helps advance our personalities and increase our chances of those unexpected moments that change our lives, but is technology the reason why we look at our feet or the floor numbers in an elevator? Are we all really so genial and gregarious as to talk to anyone who stumbles across our random path?
We are in the infancy of virtual reality, the beginning of the computer age, and approaching the singularity when A.I. becomes smarter than humans. What is the point of unplugging? This might be the evolution that ends wars, the evolution that ends poverty and hunger, the evolution away from a life that is, as Hobbes said, “nasty, brutish and short.” We can heal old wounds through commerce and trade thereby increasing global solidarity, produce more food with science, and live longer with computer generated elements on a cellular level. We can cure diseases, fly across the globe or into space. We can split atoms and move faster than sound. We are advancing along an exponential path that leads to an unprecedented and unpredictable future. We are less concerned with the moral implications of cloning or stem cells than we are with the ambiguous question of: “Wasn’t it better in the past?” We sound like our grandparents telling us the stories of hiking uphill both to and from school in the perpetual snowy and rainy land of their birth. Who cares if we don’t talk to each other anymore? When was the last time you had a real good conversation on the subway? I’m usually just being polite. Looking at your cellphone as if you’re busy while you crush candy took away any need to fake civility. We like to imagine the past as this utopia where everyone just sparked up a conversation while whistling on his or her way to work. Maybe it’s just me and Shrek, but I like my privacy. I like burying my nose in my phone or Kindle and plugging my pods in my ears. I get to hear and see what I want instead of what the world puts in front of me. I’m not shutting the world out; I’m creating the world I want.
Why are there hundreds of apps and websites dedicated to dating or meeting new people? It’s easy to be anonymous. It’s exciting to flirt without feeling your face blush. It’s the way things are. One day, as imagined in that underrated gem, Demolition Man, we will have sex with machines or via virtual reality instead of with body fluids and imperfect scenarios of lusty ambition. At least for now, we still have the opportunity to make love in a world of sloppy kisses and slippery nipples. But who’s to say future sex won’t be better? I can imagine a virtual reality where I can finally embrace that flawed beauty, Norma Jean, aka, Marilyn Monroe. I can imagine hooking my brain up to reacquaint myself with the exes that have passed my way through stored memories. Shy people could be zealous. Sadists, masochists, pedophiles, fetishists, amputees, eunuchs, and even bestiality fans can all be pleased now without embarrassment, shame or hurting any innocent parties. It would be okay to imagine anything you want without the judgment of our hypercritical world.
Kids can’t concentrate. People don’t get together to party. Strangers don’t say hello. Sorry, we can’t go backwards. It’s like fighting the ocean current to get back to the land. You need to swim with the current, indulge in the young generation’s ADD. Let’s use their interest in computers to change the way our antiquated schools operate. Let’s have virtual parties with Skyping friends from around the world. Let’s play online games and talk trash with strangers. Let’s not put down the smartphone. Let’s use it to self-educate ourselves about any and all questions that pop into our oversized craniums. Sure, you don’t need to waste time crushing candy or scoping out your ex on Facebook. Of course you shouldn’t read TMZ and Buzzfeed lists all day. No doubt there are better ways to spend your day than posting 140 characters about the myriad ways the world has F’d your L. Indubitably, hundreds of photos of your trip to Cancun or your baby messily eating spaghetti aren’t going to change the world, but it makes you feel good to show your friends what is important to you. I believe that by looking at someone’s Facebook page or Instagram feed, you are able to get a glimpse of that person’s temperament or even their psyche that they may try to hide to the world.
“It’s so hard…to say goodbye…to yesterday.” But that is why it is yesterday, what will you do today? Will you really unplug? Will you really talk to that hot blonde who passes you at the bus station everyday? Will you really Carpe Diem? Will you really help the old lady cross the street and then skip work so that you can hear her life story? I’m an optimistic pessimist, which is to say, a realist. I believe in the best of all possible worlds, but rarely can humanity grasp that nebulous notion. I say we embrace our new world instead of chastising it. I say we start training our eyes now to be able to stare at an LED screen for 8 hours a day to prepare for that future of Google glass or virtual life. I say we go gently into that good night of the internet-free past. I say we say hello to our friends with Facebook, like their posts, show the world whatever you want, accept the present. Because, who knows what the future will bring? Whatever it is, it won’t be more handshaking.