I Lost It

Why was it so easy to go inside, shut the door and plug into a virtual world?

Do you remember when you first sat at a computer? First had a cell phone? First owned your own personal computer?

Some people may not remember now because their world always had such things in them, but I remember the advance of technology and it started when I was 12.

Before 6th grade, the most complex machine I used was an automatic typer that would flash a pixelated letter across the thin screen until you hit the right key. But when I discovered Oregon Trail and Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego, a tractor beam began to pull.

By high school, I was racing through Keyboarding class which taught the basics of word processing and occasionally using my parent's cell phone that was the size of a bread loaf and about as easy to talk on.

In college, I received my first email address and installed my first home modem with the help of my techy boyfriend, Rolf. A cell phone followed shortly after, a smaller, biscotti-esque device, and I was amazed at the concept of SIM switching that all the European students did during my summer in Spain. That was in 2000.

By 2004, my phone was small and light, computers and the internet were accessible from nearly anywhere and I could send photographs, albeit with dubious quality.

A mere 3 years later, people were not just talking ON their phones, they were talking TO their phones and while I resisted the rising tide of technological saturation, it wasn't long before a well-meaning friend gave me a digital camera to record all my adventures in New Zealand.

Now I could spend hours editing, uploading and sharing the hundreds of photos I had taken without having to speak to a single person. There was no need to run to the photo shop for developing film, no point in heading to a studio to do hand enlargements and edits. I could figure it all out on my own if I had the time, patience and relative intelligence.

Facebook crept in slowly, I don't remember when exactly, but it started out as a curiosity. Like, what is this thing people are talking about? I have to get an account to investigate it so I will, but once I looked around, I pretty quickly left.

But the more I traveled, the more friends spread out around the world and the more interesting The Facebook became.

I had an OH SHIT moment when a friend posted her status as being "OK" on a dedicated Facebook page after the most recent Brooklyn train derailment. When did this become a people locator, news source, photo gallery, rhetoric toilet and virtual town square simultaneously?

Where did our actual town squares go?

Oh, they're there-they're just filled with people playing Pokemon Go or checking Facebook on break. Raising your eyes and looking around has practically become an act of social rebellion.

And I find myself thinking, "If this is all kids now know, will having phoneless face to face conversations become a new fad? Will they have any sense of what their culture so blithely abandoned?"

I barely noticed as my direct social interactions began to diminish and it took the better part of two decades to fully unfurl.

In the aftermath of 2016 Global Politipocalpyse, I am always asking, "What can I do to be more responsible, connected to my community and realistic about the extent of my potential impact?"

And the hard truth seems to keep coming, that people very rarely choose to spend unstructured, consistent time with each other over days, weeks or years unless there is a requirement to do so.

We want to be able to chose how and with whom and what we spend our time doing. With all the technology around me, I can do exactly that. I don't have to negotiate with a real human over when we will leave or what we will do when together...I can just google the thing I want and find the place it's at. I can construct a world that I control with the push of a button. It's so much cleaner, faster and less painful.

But still, I can't shake the nostalgia for having to work out differences with real people because they were neighbors or classmates or friends or just, well, people. There is an exchange that happens when we pull our brains into the present moment and ask them to respond to an unfolding situation with very tangible outcomes. Where we can't just hit the mute button but we actually have to say, "When you yell at me and shake your fists I feel scared because I think you don't care about my safety."

We suddenly become more fully engaged when we can't just google something or buy it on Amazon. We begin to see, taste, hear, smell and feel how our presence interacts with the world around us.

And maybe this makes us think abit more before we say the first thing that comes to mind. Maybe it causes us to feel like we are part of a social fabric that notices what we do and responds. Maybe it helps us be able to speak our truth before we get to the place that guns become extensions of our self-created world of virtual utopia.

I may be completely wrong here, but I'm willing to risk it. I'm coming back to the proverbial, and maybe literal, town square. I'm putting my cell phone down. And shutting my computer more often. I'm picking up more books and lifting my gaze to look around at the world that supports me and asks me to participate.

What do you think about this?





Comments

  1. So true. And beautifully put. For myself, every time I stop to consider the health and soundness of my daily habits... the one major problem that keeps standing out is "too much internet"! So I agree, let's try to meet again and more often at the town square.

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  2. I agree completely. Whilst the Internet and Facebook are viable ways to stay connected over great distances, it is vital to our society that we engage in meaningful and direct dialogue. Perhaps had more people redirected their attention to real news and talked with each other more, our current political events would have had a different outcome.

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