Monday, May 30, 2011

Technology and Intimacy: The Right to a Closet

Is technology eroding the foundations of our society?  Two recent warnings suggest users better consider the costs of spending every waking minute with their favorite machines. 

First, Jonathan Franzen pits technology against nature in “Liking is for Cowards.  Go for What Hurts,” for The New York Times. 
Second, Nicholas Carr repeatedly warns that the latest technology is impacting the very way we process information—or find our brains breaking down completely. 
In both “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and his recent book The Shallows, according to The Straits Times, Carr confesses that he observed himself like a lab rat, unable to concentrate, after technology became the driver in his life. 
Both writers testify, in effect, that these modern wonders have become the Trojan Horse, which we have dragged inside our dwellings, only to find their viruses spreading to our own inner workings. 
Both need to emphasize, too, that, if we commit this atrocity on ourselves, we can also undo it.  Is this the great divorce which our society needs—to keep itself intact? 
Married couples can agree to spend more time with each other than with their net-books and laptops—but does their new calendar include sneaking off to work to get right back on the forbidden hook?
Parents can also agree to forbid the playing of video games by their children in THEIR house—a very old argument, sure to set off rebellions and runaways, even to public libraries, which offer FREE Internet access, thanks to the public funding provided by Congress in 1996.
These challenges begin in the cradle now, where the littlest tykes can observe Mom and Pop yakking away as they complain to their friends that children should be more respectful of their elders—who love their constant companions, their cell phones, like nothing else.
Perhaps that phrase—“constant companions”—supplies the key to the problem which we must not overlook.  Didn’t God warn Adam and Eve that they must stick together in the book of Genesis?  Does this solution have to come as a red alert on our TVs to get our attention?
Setting religious differences aside, wasn’t the CEO of Heaven right?  The simplest slogans from past traditions also warn that, if our love goes missing, we will love the one we find on hand?  But, what if our true love is always in our hand—yakking away and whispering nonsense?
Maybe what we always yearned for was proximity?  Now that we’ve got it, how will we ever give it up?  And nonsense comes with this yearning, for better AND worse.  Companionable speech comes at us from every direction now—not that high-flown rhetoric of unreliable politicians.
From Wendy Williams to Jerry Springer, we have opened our homes to the most intimate topics.  From Tampax to Viagra, we share every stupid bit of trivia from our bathroom closets with total strangers.  Technology did not accomplish a social revolution all by its remorseless self.
It had a lot of help from Americans with the very best of intentions, who would not relent until Freedom of Speech meant spreading gossip and suspicions better left unsaid.  Since when does Freedom mean screaming across a stage—and bumping boobs with crocked starlets?
So, blame the social revolution on technology, if you must.  Blame it on surly teenagers, if you’ve got some.  But, please, recall:  We took all this stuff out of the closet.  We can put it back into the closet anytime we choose—including those little phones which WILL NOT let us alone.   

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