Questioning the Physical “Real”
You know that feeling when you get out of a really good lecture and you have a total brain boner? I can relate. I’m all about that tingly, post-class rush – especially when the topic concerns anything tech-related. Lately I’ve been spending more time thinking about humans’ relationship to technology – in particular, how our actions and behaviors are shaped by the networks, devices and systems we encounter. A shameless social scientist at heart, I regularly take note of the number of people glued to their screens around me: while waiting for the bus, in line at the CoHo, leaning against Wellman’s walls waiting for lecture – you get the idea. We’re obsessed with these things in our hands, and we touch them constantly. More than we touch each other. What does this mean?
What strikes me as especially interesting about our addiction to technology is that it’s as physical as it is emotional. It’s inescapable for one – we’re either required to ingest academic content delivered by our instructors via digital mediums like PowerPoint and Keynote, or so bored that we turn to social network comfort zones for instant gratification. I find it beautiful in a dysfunctional kind of way that we find ourselves connecting more to our online lives than to our so-called “real” ones; just as interesting to me is the ways in which we respond to and express feelings, thoughts, emotions and impulses through different mediated landscapes. Flip to a random page in our generation’s dictionary and you’ll find this new language. Verbs that convey the technological transformation of our lives and our means of interpreting it, and nouns that have come to collectively define our shifting identities. Out of this language evolves a new kind of intimacy – one that speaks to our roles as both creators and consumers of the technological fix we crave, and the ways in which we seek reassurance from our predecessors. I think we thrive on exaggerated postulations of the future because deep down, we know we’re doomed. But then again, maybe that’s just my inner nihilist talking. In any case, I’ve discovered how intellectually gratifying it is to lose myself in thoughts relating to the overwhelming role of technology in our society. We’re all of us entrenched in a rhetoric that basically says to us, “if you’re not online, you’re not alive.”
And so, with this transformed language and new intimacy that our obsession with technology has produced, where do we go from here? Even if we’re not physically living out the scenes of our cyber-infatuated fantasies, what does our very personal and very physical relationship with these networks say about our kind? And more importantly, why should we care? Throughout the quarter, I’ll be exploring topics related to this theme, namely, the role technology plays in our lives and how it influences our relationships with each other. The column will function as a combo of observations, reflections, and most of all – an invitation to dialogue.
Drop Whitney Davis a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.