Let’s talk a bit, you and I, about technology and its place in our lives.
Every day I struggle, balance the tightrope between being a gadget junkie and being a troglodyte. Wait, that’s not the right word. Neophyte? Nope. Hermaphrodite? Uh…not the last time I checked. Luddite. That’s the word. Luddite.
I don’t Facebook, twitter, or Instagram, but I do blog. I don’t personally own a smartphone, but have one for work that I have a semi-strict rule that it remains off from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m. I have a pre-paid cell for personal emergencies. I tend to never turn it on because I don’t know where the charger is most the time.
I try to not waste time surfing the web, but I do post comments to a small group of user forums, and each semester I deliver two or more technical writing courses via the web, but will go for weeks at a time without connecting to the internet when I am on vacation or what have you.
Heck, last weekend I got through the whole weekend only using my computer twice, yet I am almost to the point where I refuse to read a book in paper form any more, preferring instead to read via Kindle app on my tablet.
I caught a quick glimpse of a headline about a group of people somewhere who are “Sharing Stuff without Apps” and I thought to myself, isn’t it strange that something like this would be news?
And this is what worries me so much about our current technological path. Back in the day I was an early adopter. I worked for a large computer company and had a near quarterly influx of new technology and gear, and a huge employee purchase debt to prove it.
Then I stepped back a bit, started to question the use of technology and whether it made my life better or not. This was pre-facebook. The answer was a resounding no, technology was not making my life better or easier. It was complicating it. I had gotten to the point where the tools were not longer at my beck and call. I was at theirs.
So I stepped back. I didn’t eschew technology completely, but I did limit its use.
Facebook and the whole social media movement seem to have, from my neo-luddite(?) point of view, compounded the issue. Or, rather, moved us as a nation, as a globe, quickly past the point where we even bother to ask the question. The popularity of these technologies is such that it is near impossible to question if the sacrifices we make to use them are worth it, because “everyone’s doing it.” As the crowd goes, so goes the individual.
What am I trying to get at here? I think I’m trying to get at the fact that for so many of us, we cannot fathom something like sharing a tool with our neighbor unless there is an app that allows us to select what we need, locate it online, get a google map to the place where it resides, post a status update about it on Facebook, and text our BFF that IRL you’ve just cut your thumb off with the saw you just borrowed using the Findmeatool app.
I’m getting at the ways that technology that seems to break down the walls between people tends to actually build them up. We won’t talk to the person that lives next to us in real life, but we will tell our life stories to complete strangers online. We’ll post our most intimate secrets to the unwashed masses, but have no one in whom we can confide in face to face.
And this is why I am so conflicted about things like Bike to Work day. I know I railed against it couple of weeks ago. A big part of this is that I like having that wall between me and others. I like being an island unto myself and things that build community force me to reassess my interactions with that community.
But on the other hand, it really seems that the very idea of community and getting people together for a common cause has become, due to our technophilia, nothing more than an excuse to post a status update that shows just how wonderful of a person we are: here’s how we are saving the planet. Look, here’s us cleaning up other people’s trash. And he we are feeding the homeless children of wherever.
Maybe it is more a matter of authenticity. How can we assess whether what someone does is authentic or done simply for the story it will tell?
Take this column. I write it each week, but am I doing it for an authentic purpose or do I write from a space wherein I have created a persona that each week’s dispatch helps to build and reinforce?
Of course, the answer is both. One can never be truly authentic online. We have to create some sort of persona. We create personas for all types of situations in life. One face at the office, one in the classroom, one at the grocery store, one at the gym. This is a natural part of being human. So there is inauthenticity in everything we do, but with the rise of technology, it seems ever harder to A) keep the personas straight and, B) know what is true and what is not.
And how does this relate in any concrete way to transportation and cycling and all the other rot that I’m supposedly focused on?
Well…I don’t know. Maybe how it connects is this: Put away your phone and go for a bike ride and see if you feel a bit more authentic. Don’t track your ride with Strava. Don’t use GPS to track miles and route and calories burned. Don’t listen to your favorite album on your iPod. Just go out and ride with no technology (I know, the bike is technology…work with me). Make a conscious effort to step away from technology for a bit of time each week. Riding a bike is a great way to do this. Get out into the world. Authentically. Use the sound of the wind in your ears as a sounding board for questioning the things you see around you each day.