• Distracted, Digitalized & Dumb

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    Grandpa reading the paper

    My 92 year old grandfather engaging in an arcane hobby: Reading a newspaper.

    I’m surrounded by technology fetishists. Why? I live in San Francisco — ground zero for Google-level geekery. Just take any bus Downtown, and you’ll be inundated with popular technology. And I mean the whole spectrum of trendy gadgets, glorified like holy grails on tech blogs. So, on the bus, you’ve got the clean-shaven “suit,” faithfully reading Thomas Friedman on his Kindle. And the admirably on-top-of-his-shit dude, fiddling with his iPad. And the PR girls, wrapped in Marc Jacobs wools, doing *something* on their iPhones. And I’m sure there’s some Japanese or German innovation, which I’m too inattentive to notice. And it’s an eerie sight, sitting on the bus. Everybody is so “plugged in.” They’re typing, talking — so seemingly “involved.” But, in the process, they seem “tuned out.” Distracted. Distanced. Out of it.

    And I wonder …is this making us more stupid? Okay, I’m not a Luddite. I support machines. Seriously, where would I be without the polio vaccine, birth control pill or Gutenberg’s printing press? And I’m immersed,  too! Really, look: 1) I’ve worked for multiple online companies 2) I know basic web design 3) I own tech items 4) I ‘m good friends with professional techies  & I often respect their work (it is definitely more useful than 90% of the garbage coming out of the movie, music and finance industries).

    But I don’t think we need all this digitalization. Or, I’ll get off my soapbox and say that, personally, I don’t need it. So, how will I feel living in a place, like Istanbul, where people don’t just SAY that tech can be “stupid”? Instead, they actually DO live outside a 24/7 tech bubble. How will I socially interact, living in a place, like Istanbul, where tech doesn’t dominate the public sphere? Will I feel better about things? About our future? Will I miss how “accessible” everybody seems? Ideally, I’ll spend more time on the “good stuff,” like web design and digital photography, and less on the junk. But we’ll see.

    As much as I love technology, I think we’re using it incorrectly. It should enhance our lives. But it shouldn’t become a detached human organ, serving as our universal portals, enveloping and overwhelming  us. And, ironically, the more tech-savvy I become, the more strongly I feel this way. That’s because I see the beauty of technology. I’ve gained the power to actually MAKE what I have passively viewed for years (i.e. web pages). That’s massively empowering. But I also see the limitations of the Internet. It is an infinite network, probably the most tangible way for me to understand the expansion of the universe — and that’s pretty deep stuff. But, due to its infinitude, it is a void. There is no end and there is no control. Somehow, we fall in deep. We’re victims of its immensity.

    Scientists think black holes are created by TOO MUCH.  They occur when an object can’t resist its own gravity. So, it collapses under its own weight. Now, apologies, if I sound apocalyptic. But, in a small way, this is how I perceive the “Information Age.” We’re not miraculously enlightened. The world seems just as impoverished, hardened and cruel as it was 25 years ago. But, now, the privileged countries are infected with something new: an onslaught of information. It bewilders us. In turn, we can’t help but succumb — or, to hammer home the analogy (sorry!), we “collapse” under the weight.

    There’s a reason, after all, why the Luddites raged through England, smashing stocking frames. They perceived a real threat to their livelihoods. They foresaw the incredible industrialization of the 19th century. And they didn’t like it. But the machines came, one after another. And they were powerful. And influential. And undeniable.

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    Related stuff to check out:

    Frontline Report: Digital Nation — Who doesn’t love Frontline?

    Neo-Luddites — As the name implies, they’re Luddites for the 21st century.

    Transhumanism — They’re all about machines & technology …kinda  like the anti-Luddites.

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