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Davis, California

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Column: I’m not quite sure I like™ this

Let’s just forget the racist, nostalgic diatribe pining over the good ol’ days. Let’s pretend that this isn’t a geriatric rant about how the price of gas is too damn high and that kids need to stay the hell off my lawn.

OK, not really, but that’s how I feel as a naive young adult when I fail to overcome the urge to reminisce about the state of affairs only a few decades ago. Maybe I hate paying $4 for a gallon, and if neighborhood kids are going to hang out directly outside my window when I’m trying to watch TV, they should shut up already.

I totally understand that it’s a bit hypocritical that I choose to rant against this age of technological connectivity on my nearly brand-new laptop, send my words to a cloud server to edit later and murder countless hours reading comments on the internet.

I’ll say that there are things from not so long ago that I dearly miss and things today that I have a serious problem with.

For instance, I’m not the biggest fan of the fact that I spend so much of my own time comparing my life to the highlight reels of the lives of others. I get it — it’s fun to share vacation pictures, and I post things online most people post things online to satisfy their own vanity rather than for the actual benefit of others. Yes, I’m doing this voluntarily, but it’s upsetting how clicking that blue button with an “F” on it has become one of my default actions whenever I sit down at a computer. Additionally, “Likes” mildly terrify me. I get elementary school-type jitters whenever I think about if the other kids won’t Like what I bring to show and tell.

Furthermore, if my spending an inordinate amount of “valuable” computer time on Zuckerberg’s landing page wasn’t enough, I can’t help but check my phone every time I get a push notification to go to so-and-so-who-I-stopped-talking to-years-ago’s event for an organization that has nothing to do with me. Then I’ll check again just in case the newsfeed refreshed in the few seconds when I put my phone to sleep.

On that note, the prevalence of cell phones is another thing that wasn’t a thing back when I was eight. As a kid, since I don’t recall being the sharpest knife in the drawer, I took pride in mundane things like remembering a seven-digit sequence of numbers so I could call my friend’s house and ask if he wanted to come over after school … I’m pretty sure if I attempted this without the numbers written down directly in front of me today, I wouldn’t be able to call anybody.

And the cell phone is a wonderful device: it allows us to communicate whenever we want — and sometimes, more often than that. My inner Henry David Thoreau sometimes wishes I could retreat to some obscure pond and not get flak for shutting off for a while.

Additionally, my beloved Facebook service integrates so seamlessly into my internet phone that I can stalk anybody’s online presence within moments of meeting them. The reverse of this is unfortunately true as well, and it’s only going to become more effortless. We already have the technology to recognize landmarks and give GPS directions to a location just from a photo of the location. I shudder to think what the combined integration of Google’s latest experiment in eyewear will do when integrated with social networking technology.

It’s fun, convenient, easy and it satisfies our natural desire to be voyeurs into the lives of others. The fact that I can access the greatest encyclopedia known to man at the speed of light using a handheld rectangle is nothing short of marvelous. I can learn almost anything, from the distance between the Earth and Alpha Centauri (4.367 light years) to what my neighbor did last Tuesday afternoon (checked in at Jamba Juice after buying a Razzmatazz smoothie) with almost no effort. And I still can’t decide which is more interesting. At least I can “Like” the smoothie…

But what are some of the consequences of this culture of likes and knowing everything? I’m curious to see how mobile applications of internet networking resources will affect the habitual cognitive processes of those without a reference point grounded in answering machines and VHS cassettes.

Would the minds of today’s youth born into cell phones and Wikipedia be able to survive the world of VHS tapes and answering machines? I miss the days when I could call my crush, 36 times in half an hour, without them really knowing who called. Kids these days should be jealous of that. When I do that now it’s just rude … and that glaring red “36” shows up next to my name in the missed calls section.

People these days don’t have to memorize anything. They can look up any piece of human knowledge in an instant. I wonder if this lack of memorization causes the mind to atrophy.

I’m not against social media — like most of my peers, I can’t seem to get enough of it — but every once in a while, I wish we could hit pause. Though that probably won’t happen, I am curious about how our increasingly integrated relationship with online resources might change how we see and interact with the world and with other people.

ALAN LIN can be reached electronically at science@theaggie.org.


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