I don’t know if anyone could identify with me, but I seem to be coming full circle on the technology issue. We are living in this ultra-modern digital age, with the world of information at our fingertips, but for some reason I find myself harboring a deep . . . almost hatred of digital devices. My tablet feels useless, my smartphone like an unjustified extravagance. Email access anywhere? Who am I, Warren Buffett? Of course, there is something to be said for being able to Wiki something, define something, IMDB someone when the situation calls for it; when you’re watching a movie and someone goes, “oh, where have I seen her before?” you have the ability to snap off a little bit of information to release that mental tension. On the other hand, you could just let it go and not break up the temporal flow of your cinematic experience. . . I could go either way, but I’m tending toward silence now, because you start going down the list of everything this actor is doing and the next thing you know you’re looking at the cast of Cabaret and trying to figure out how the devil you got there. It’s like having a conversation with IMDB for Pete’s sake.
But hey, there’s an issue. Is our technology taking the place of our memories? In Proust and the Squid: the Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolf wrote about how (Plato, I think it was) had a problem with reading when it was starting to come around because according to him, having the information at your fingertips meant that you had no reason to memorize it – and indeed, back then it seems as though your average Greek could tell a hundred different tales verbatim, if Wolf is to be believed. But the point is clear, and I have experienced that myself with my technology. I grew up with an analog phone system, and when I was twelve I could rattle off thirty or so telephone numbers, while now I know just three telephone numbers by heart – four, if you count Jenny (867-5309.)
Now I find that I miss those things that the digital technology has replaced. Those things, they don’t just rustle with the dry sound of leaves. They’re the things that move, the things that ding, and the things that crackle. Do you remember typewriters? Record players? CRT televisions?
Okay, I’m actually never going back to CRTs. That was just ridiculous. But how about UHF and VHF broadcasts? All arguments about quality aside, don’t you remember when you could twist that dial and tune in the station, and actually watch some TV? Now we have a local weather channel that I can’t seem to tune in even though it’s broadcasting within walking distance. That’s alright; if we have a tornado, I’ll just go outside and stare at the sky, I guess.
When I was younger, I was in danger of having to move in fairly quick order. It made sense to be able to concentrate more of my belongings in a smaller bit of space. But how is it that even though I’m now stable, I still feel obliged to do it all with a single artifact? Now I just want to carry a book, a real book, and I do. I actually, literally, smell the book from time to time, and it actually, literally, makes me feel better when I feel stranded in the world. Isn’t it a shame that we’re trying to leave all of our best innovations in the past, while entrusting our future to the cloud?