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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

3 Technology Tragedies

A year ago, THREE THINGS was dedicated to my first-ever trip to the CES (Consumer Electronics Show), a lifelong dream fulfilled, and proof positive that I am, in fact, a shameless geek. I love all things technology, including my iPhone, iPad, TiVo, Bluetooth, etc., etc., etc (believe me, I could go on). And while there is no doubt that I am a disciple of the church of gadgetry, and all the ways in which it can make one's life better, I’ve also noticed that there is a downside to all this techno-sprawl. As the world’s electronics manufacturers have brought these microchip miracles to the masses, they’ve brought with them a whole host of problems which we never could have anticipated. A year removed from the greatest moment of my technology-fueled life, I stand aghast at the world around me, and can’t help but notice that some of it can be traced to our new electronic lives. And with the honesty only a techno-apologist could muster, here are the three cons to all of our technology pros:

1. Paying Attention. There is a new posture that has replaced the slacker slouch which characterized two decades worth of youthful disappointment and has afflicted far more than simply the Stridex set. In fact, it can be spotted in the fanciest clubs and restaurants, even being adopted by the social elite. It is the smartphone hunch. You know the one I mean, the head hung down staring at the upward facing LCD screen, being held by both hands (so as to leave thumbs free), with shoulders tightly hunched in rapt attention to the brightly colored display. Our portable portals to the information superhighway command an almost constant attention, and as our online lives have become ever more personal, we are only too happy to give it to them. I’ve truthfully seen groups of young women sitting around a table at a bar, ostensibly on a “Girl’s Night Out”, each of them dressed up ready for action and yet dutifully glued to their phones, sometimes even using them to talk to each other. You know technology’s gone mad when it makes even bimbos anti-social. If you find yourself at a social gathering in this position, turn your phone off and your humanity on. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. If you find someone else in this position, feel free to slap the phone out of their hands and let them know that if they only want to play with themselves, they’re better off staying at home.

2. Shorthanded. As our communications have gone from voice to digital voice, to electronic writing to short-form electronic writing, we have naturally developed a shorthand to infuse these ever-more efficient means with the personality which their unimodality strips away. After all, there is no body language in a call, no inflection in an e-mail, and no nuance in a text message. And in this vacuum of subtlety, a universe of acronyms and text version of facial expressions has been created. Few amongst us don’t know and don’t use “LOL”, “:)” or “TTYL” - and as they have come into common use, they've proven quite valuable. We all know that leaving off the appropriate acronym or emoticon can be nearly disastrous - especially when communicating with the opposite sex. The voluminous use of this shorthand, however, is now coming at the expense of its storied predecessor, actual writing. Thousands of teachers have reported the use of these acronyms (and yes, even their smiley-face counterparts) in term papers, book reports, science projects and more. It’s one thing to use these shortcuts when limited by time and characters, it’s another when you’ve got all the time and space you need. If the only way you know how to express happiness is with a colon and a parenthesis, it’s a fair bet that you’ve never really experienced it at all.

3. A Voice For Everyone. As the content of all this new media becomes less and less populated by monolithic networks, and more and more by independent sources, it has become possible for each of us to broadcast our thoughts, beliefs and conclusions literally around the world with just the touch of a button. I, for one, am grateful for this particular advancement - as without it, there would be no THREE THINGS, no book and no way for me to visit with each of you every week. But while this universal access sounds like a wonderfully democratic idea, it turns out that when we give everyone the opportunity to broadcast, we do not give it exclusively to people who have even the slightest bit of intelligence, rationality or the ability to think logically. No, we gave it to the crazies, the fanatics and the woefully under-informed; the whack-jobs, the religious right and the local militia members - and as luck would have it, they turned out to be some of the loudest voices in the crowd. These shouting simpletons have done far worse than simply drown out still small voices that we all might be better served to listen to - they’ve found each other, banded together and formed a political party (complete with its own television network). Of course, it begs the question then, whether I would give up this pulpit, if I could once again have these collective fools banished to the rural fields and dark suburban corners from whence they came. And the answer would be a resounding “yes.”

* * *

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not planning on putting all my gadgets up on eBay, and trying to create a desert Walden, here in southern Nevada. No, I’ll still be logging in and logging on - just as data hungry as I was yesterday, and still looking to the recently departed exhibitors from the CES to populate my wish list in the year to come - but I am cautious to look to them for anything more, or to continue to recommend the technology that I have personally adopted to everyone around me. Because what I’ve come to know, after observing the aforementioned horrors, that technology is a powerful tool, and any of you with power tools know that they’re not to be handled by just anyone. And so in the absence of minimum IQs, ages or measurable social skills as a prerequisite for owning these new technologies, I can only hope that the new electronic economy that emerges from the Great Recession will make these electronics prohibitively expensive - or at least a whole lot harder to use. Perhaps then we'll find that the problems with our online lives are best solved by turning them off.


Eric said...

Let me offer you pros for two of your cons:

The Smartphone Hunch:
Sadly, we can't all be the erudite, eye candy, social god, dance machine that, oh, say any random lawyer with a blog might be. From the moment they walk in the door that person is 100% occupied until they collapse hours later, exhausted and satiated, probably on the bed of twin Japanese human origami artists.

For the rest of us, the Smartphone Hunch fills those frequent moments when we aren't talking to anyone, don't like the song, have exhausted in futility all of our opening lines on the hottie in the low-rise leather jeans, don't have to pee and already have a full beer.

These (all too) frequent moments used to be occuppied by standing around, staring into space, bobbing one's head to the music (probably out of time) or pretending to be amused by something the people standing next to us said even though they weren't actually talking to us and we can't hear them anyway, all in a vain attempt to establish please god just a little human contact.

But everyone, no matter how maladjusted, has someone who wants to hear from them, even if they aren't people that would ever get admitted to a club that doesn't start with the words "chess", "science", "Star Trek" or "Philatelists'". The Smartphone lets us fill the souless, empty moments by reaching out to less fortunate nobody's outside, and for all you know we're texting our good buddy Brad who's dating our ex Angelina. So...yeah...suck on that!

Eric said...

Pro of the Con Number Two: A Voice for Everyone (Who Used to Put Bombs in Mailboxes)

This one's easy. Sure....every Kaczynskite living in the woods in a shack made out of empty iPhone boxes and running his satellite uplink off of batteries powered by his own urine now has the ability to broadcast his thoughts on Sarah Palin's immenent ascension worldwide. The great thing about that though is that those guys have ALWAYS existed, we just never knew where they were unless they blew a few people up so that the New York Times would publish their crappy little meditations on all things wingnut.

I don't mind that they're a little crazy...I don't like QUIET crazy...quiet and crazy makes me nervous.

Kristina said...

My comment was that, although I hate dating myself and showing what a nerd I am, we've been using "LOL," "ROFL," "ROFLMAOASTC," "AFK," "BRB," etc. since the earlier 90's with BBS's. (Yes, the commas and periods go inside the quotation marks. At least, I have never seen any rule to the contrary.)

It's really fun trying to decipher the context when people just randomly take out every vowel in a word.

How come I can't use my facebook profile to link. Not fair. :):)

Anonymous said...

I'll tell you one thing! As much as I am attracted to the newest, shiniest, tiniest object that has come up this week, I also can't stand it! Especially if you still remember the days when you could not call your girlfriend when you were out with the boys because there really wasn't a phone available where you were, maybe. Now when you go out for an hour you get fifteen texts needing an explanation for every single thing that you are doing.

Every time I get on facebook I see another douchebag posting how they just had a cheeseburger at Johnny Rockets and it "Totally Delish>;}!" Then twenty minutes later another posting from the same douchebag talking about how he's "CHEATING ON HIS DIET at Cold Stone Creamery;/!!" Cannot stand these )*( (assholes)

My point is simply that it seems with all of these technological leaps and bounds, come consequences. I can't remember the last time I went on a walk and didn't check my Blackberry fifteen times, or didn't have a computer in my lap for four hours a day killing off what sperm I have left.


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