Somewhere between playing around with the Google+ demo, checking out Facebook’s new video calling feature, listening to an NPR feature on how we’re always connected to our smartphones, and reading about a new steering wheel with a built-in heart monitor, I pinched myself.
Am I becoming less human? Is my blood now flowing with digital cells along with red and white cells? The pinch hurt only for a moment but the introspection lasted much longer.
Here’s the thing: I don’t stop and ask for directions anymore, and I barely talk to my neighbors. I never choose to write a letter over sending an email, and I hardly ever go into real bookstores to buy real books.
Somewhere along the line, I must have disconnected part of my brain and plugged in somewhere else.
Like Charlie Chaplin falling victim to the automatic eating machine in Modern Times, I suddenly felt a little helpless.
Don’t get me wrong here; I love technology as much as the next nerd. I see real value in self-publishing, social networking, having instant access to anything, etc. But I was starting to wonder if my insatiable appetite for technology was truly healthy.
When I spoke with my friends about this, they all thought I was nuts. "What’s wrong with technology? It’s sweet, man. Look at what we can do with our phones now." And they had a point. When you think of how much we’ve advanced over just the last ten years, it’s almost frightening. Cool, but frightening.
Mary Shelly, who positioned Frankenstein’s monster as a metaphor for the dangers of unabated scientific advancement, must have had a similar epiphany. And that was two hundred years ago. Imagine what she would have thought of modern-day science, robotics, warfare, and even the smart gadgets we tow around in our pockets.
Technology (mostly the Internet) is an engrained cultural facet now. Should we ever experience a shutdown of the web for more than one week, the world as we know it would go completely mad.
After mulling this over for a while, I decided that the only logical solution was to shrug it off and find some humor in it all. Besides, it’s much easier to think about Frankenstein’s monster puttin' on the Ritz than it is to picture him murdering innocents.
I can only speak for myself when I say that technology is both ruthless and brilliant. It can leave you as fast as a high-school flame and it can make you feel cooler than the Fonz—all before you can say "aaaaaaayyy." And I get the feeling that most of us struggle with that dichotomy, no matter how "in touch" we like to act.
I think we can take some advice from Ian McEwan, who wrote: "Slowing down, stopping yourself completely, to read and understand a poem is like trying to acquire an old-fashioned skill." Even if technology is a far cry from poetic, the process is still applicable. Once we slow down enough to find the significance in our digital investments, we can determine just how far we’re willing to plug in.
But in all honesty, I’ll save that sampling of my digital blood cells for tomorrow. I’m not quite ready right to make the assessment yet. For now I’ll put my headphones on, turn up Jamiroquai’s "Virtual Insanity," and take a walk. After all, I’m only human.
By Alex Fairbanks