Credit: iStockphoto/Nick Schlax
Technology has taken a toll on me. I’ve been a discontent for years, though, at least since 5th or 6th grade. It was the late ’80′s and my parents lived on St. Mary’s Lake in Battle Creek, Michigan. Our neighborhood was upper & middle class–St. Mary’s is a private lake–and there were a bunch of boys my age. Even cooler, they all loved playing outside! We played football and baseball in the park atop the hill, and two of us had basketball hoops. We’d play basketball for hours every day, well-after the sun went down! Sometimes our parents would get mad, screaming, “It’s time for bed! If I have to tell you again, you’re grounded!” (Apparently, they stopped believing “I’m coming, mom! Geesh!” after the ninth or tenth time.) But every day was packed with outdoor activities. Whether it was fishing for bass, riding bikes over Mr. Carter’s flowers, sledding down wickedly huge hills, playing badminton & croquet, or making the world’s most (dangerously) awesome underground fort, we did things as a group, and we were almost always outside.
Nintendo blew that world to fucking smithereens.
Everything changed; the park on the hill died a lonely death under the overgrowth from years of neglect and disrepair; the basketball nets and backboards got ratty from the weather; and while the underground fort remains, it remains only as a sort of symbolic ruin, covered in decades worth of leaves from autumns gone by. These were dramatic changes, and they were painfully visible to anyone with a functioning set of eyeballs.
Life quickly became an indoor activity. Football was traded in for Tecmo Bowl; basketball was swapped for Double-Dribble; and playing Excitebike, well, that replaced poppin’ wheelies off janky ramps made from random parts we found in the garage. With the rarest of nostalgic exceptions, the neighborhood was never the same.
That was a long time ago and ours isn’t the same world–not even close! It’s only become more technological; we live in the day and age of iPhones & iPads, of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, of YouTube, LinkedIn and Reddit (and that’s just the tip of the technological iceberg!). There’s also 24/7 on-demand television. And don’t forget about that subtle soundtrack most people have playing in the background while taking showers… while in the car… during work… while in stores… and even while sleeping. Ours surely is a civilization that shimmers and shines, where sights and sounds abound.
This is modern life.
Personal preferences notwithstanding, clocks rarely turn back and time stops for no one. Existence happens. And don’t get me wrong, Nintendo isn’t the boogieman! It’s one of a gazillion distractions we deal with face-to-screen every day. But this makes my point all the more poignant.
I’ve often been asked: are you saying we should all cut ourselves off entirely from social technologies? If one wishes to live as the Amish, maybe, but I don’t foresee–much less desire!–Swiss Anabaptism to be trending across the U.S. any time soon. But this says nothing whatsoever of lamentation or dissent. More importantly, and if we’ve learned much at all from history, it seems that there’s nearly always just cause for cautious consideration and that moderation has proven herself time and again to be the trustiest of our trustworthy handmaidens. Hell, it’s a proverbial truth that reformation is always in need of reformation. So why would the lessons learned from these truths not influence the way we approach technological innovations? For fear of considering that wisdom may currently be getting suffocated to death between the two thieves of escapism and technocracy?
Honestly, I don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer here. In fact, I don’t have a set-in-stone answer whatsoever. But reality is outside my brain, and outside my brain is a reality packed with billions of compulsive communicators with brains, an increasing number of whom are experiencing the throngs & throes of a world bursting at the seems with modern technologies. At the very least (and if nothing else), we’ve got the ingredients for giving a whack at thinking this whole technologies thing through. And if our talking requires some long-lost peace & quiet, we could always meet at the playground.