Aaron R. Davis
When I first started blogging back in 2005, someone jumped onto one of my first posts to tell me that bloggers are shouting their opinions into a vacuum and that no one really cares. It was probably the best introduction to online life that I could’ve had, because it’s half true; you are shouting your opinion into a vacuum. But the fact that he felt the need to tell me how wrong my opinions about sexism in the media were shows that, for a minute or two, he cared. I think the only thing people really care about anymore is their opinion. Which is to say, the only thing people really care about anymore is themselves. And we’ve got the technology to reinforce everyone’s idea that they’re the most important person in the world.
Which is fitting, because I’m about to use this space to talk about myself.
Some things happened this week that just reinforced my hatred of technology. And they reinforced the fact that I also can’t live without it.
First, my external hard drive broke down because I did something apparently very stupid: I turned it off. Nothing else; just turned it off. When I turned it back on, some clicking occurred, but I couldn’t access the machine. Eventually, I determined the problem was a faulty power cord and spent sixty bucks to have a new one overnighted to me. Sixty bucks. For a power cord. Because I didn’t want to go more than a day without access to 200 gigs of my music collection, a bunch of my old papers, pictures of my late sister and copies of tax document PDFs. It worked, by the way. Now I’m left to ponder why so much of my life is wrapped up in a three pound bundle of wires that I’m now afraid to turn off.
Second, I’m now on Twitter. I resisted this latest social network as fiercely as I’d resisted MySpace and Facebook – after all, so much of my time is wrapped up trying to write, constantly blogging, doing this column and working as a teacher. How much more pointless communication do I need to do? Especially in short, 140-character bursts with netspeak shorthand that makes me feel futuristic and retarded at the same time? Nevertheless here I am, tweeting away with the other twats, updating to no one in particular about my diet, my celebrity lust objects and – in a fit of unoriginal irony – my hatred of technology. A leap into the future, only to be reminded how little we actually have to say to each other. Or, more accurately, into the vacuum.
Third, my TV broke. You know how? I turned it off. Shut off my $800 LCD flatscreen, went grocery shopping, came home and now it won’t turn on. Oh, it’s still under warranty, and even though the repair guy said the worst thing you can ever hear from a repair guy (“I’ll have to order a part”), I have no doubt that it will be fixed. But as you read this it’s my fifth day without television, and as much as some of us like to claim that we can get by without our entertainment fixation, I just really hate not having it. I’m missing my shows; I don’t care how shallow that makes me. I feel lonely and understimulated – apparently I can’t get by with just books, comics, music, my wife and the Internet. I barely know what day it is without TV.
So, with the TV inaccessible, I went to the movies this weekend. Four times. And every time I ended up seeing this commercial that irritated the hell out of me. It was for some cell phone plan that lets you stay in touch, blah blah blah. What bugged me is the family in the commercial, walking around a pretty nice-looking museum and … not really looking at anything. They were texting, looking on the Internet, taking pictures and emailing them, probably blogging or tweeting about what they were seeing, but not really absorbing natural history, which is kind of the point of a museum. They weren’t experiencing the museum in reality. They were recording the fact of their visit and transmitting that fact into the vacuum.
And I guess this is the point of technology today: thanks to our web-enabled camera phones and the digitization of everything, nobody ever has to experience life as it is. They can instead manipulate their every action to an imagined audience in the vacuum, keeping them comprised of their every move, every thought, every pointless observation or uninformed opinion or what Simpsons line best fits the situation they’re in. And we try not to really confront the fact that no one really cares. That we’re not really talking to anyone. That the people we friend on Facebook aren’t really our friends. I’m not going to let you sleep on my couch and you’re not going to help me move. Friends are now concepts kept in a box and brought out to play with when we’re bored; friendships now require no work, no responsibility, no obligations. The idea of friendship, the idea of experience, the idea of all sensation is just so much commercial grist for whatever the new apps are. We’ve turned the world into a giant scrapbook where we can wrap ourselves up in ourselves and never take anyone else’s input seriously.
You know what I say?
Who cares? Why shouldn’t we be able to use our technology to reshape our experiences into whatever we want? Who cares if we’re talking into a vacuum instead of to other people? At least we’re not keeping everything in. Who wants someone’s input on stuff like a blog? People are stupid and their opinions are worthless. We hate other peoples’ opinions, don’t we? You can’t write “I hate snow” on a blog without some other self-obsessed dink logging on to tell you that they love the snow because they hardly get any of it, or that it’s 90 degrees and sunny all year where they live. Who wants to put up with taking the time to write “Kristen Bell is perfection” only to hear “No, not really”? Why shouldn’t we stay wrapped up in ourselves instead of venturing forth a list of favorite Star Trek episodes only to hear the dreaded “Um, actually …”? In the 21st Century, the favorite pastime of millions is to get outraged over meaningless matters of opinion and spend the rest of the day proving you’re smarter than a perfect stranger. And the way we’ve reacted is to develop better and better technology that allows us to filter out the vast quantities of smug and pointless and bothersome and ridiculous. Because, really, who wants to put up with it? Hell, this column has gone on for so long that you’re probably just scanning past it because, you know, who wants to read something for more than four paragraphs that’s just full of some guy’s opinions?
So, while I wait for my TV to be fixed so I can have my biggest, time-wasting-est friend back, I think I’ll go to a museum, send some pictures of it on my web-enabled camera phone, then Photoshop them so I look like I’m one of the Polynesian warriors in costume before posting them on my blog while listening to MP3s, downloading a movie I won’t pay to see in the theater and tweeting that I love pumpkin pies better than all other pies. And I’ll be secure in the knowledge that no one is paying attention, so it doesn’t really matter what I say.
Nah, that’s not really true. I’ll probably take the virtual tour of a museum online. Then I won’t even have to leave the apartment.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.