A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I love the Internet, but here are a few casualties of our increasing dependence on technology — Part Two.
Memory — Remember Algebra? Neither do I. It’s not important to me. Nor do I remember the atomic number of zinc, how to spell concieve (conceive?) or the names of some of those odd little countries that used to be the Soviet Union. I don’t remember any of that stuff. But the Internet does. It remembers everything. Unfortunately, because of that, I don’t remember my Aunt Vera’s mailing address either, or my sister’s telephone number, or most of my friends’ birthdays — and these things are important to me. My point is, for most of human history, people remembered things. In fact, when stuff was really, really important, they carved it into stone — just in case. However, since the Internet, we don’t remember much of anything — important or not. We let the Internet do it for us and trust that some evil little hacker from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan or Azerbaijan doesn’t get pissed off, one rainy winter evening, and wipe it all out.
Bricks and Mortar Stores — When I was a kid, the butcher used to call my mother “Mrs. Fyfe.” My sisters used to flirt with the checkout clerks at the grocery store. My dad knew the guys at the lumberyard — by name. And, once, the girl at the bookstore hid the last copy of Welcome To The Monkey House under the counter for me. These were not unusual occurrences. Everybody my age has similar experiences. These days, however, I haven’t been to a bookstore since I discovered Amazon because there aren’t any left in my neighbourhood. (I’m not sure which happened first.) I just bought a Roomba and the first time I saw it was when I opened the box. I shop at a grocery store that’s so large it needs its own GPS and find myself envying people in England who can shop at Tesco from the privacy of their own pajamas. We are the last generation of touch-and-feel retail.
Blood and Bones People — I have nieces and nephews I haven’t seen since they were children, but I recognize their husbands and wives. I’ve seen their homes, know what they eat for dinner, where they go on vacation and what they do for fun. I’ve had conversations (and arguments) with people I don’t even know. Strangers compliment me every day. I play games with people who don’t have names and might very well be figments of a digital imagination. And I have no idea where many of my friends live because I’ve never met them. The truth is, even though we might not want to admit it, in the 21st century, most of us have just as much human contact online as we do face-to-face. The problem is electronic people might LOL but they don’t laugh; they can emoji, but they can’t cry. They don’t spill their wine, ruin your makeup, squeeze your hand, slurp their soup, or kiss you goodbye. And it is this indisputable fact — more than what and how we remember, or where and when we shop — that’s changing our society more radically and rapidly than ever before in human history.