As the world historical to the intimate evolve into a sea of glowing blue screens folks like gurus, pope Francis and me have started to urge people around us [especially our kids and students] to drop their iPhones and start connecting, via meeting up outside the classroom, at museums, theaters etc .
Our tech generation has become obsessive with obsessively recording and uploading everything to the cloud. Social media has wiped out and replaced old problems of social graces; now ‘misfits’ can now join the ranks of those with heads in the cloud [which is not a bad thing for them given that they’re ostracized form the popular groups at school]. There is a societal shift as vanity takes more and more hold of those recording and posting more and more, and consequently as more videos are posted online to describe their experiences.
Faceless bodies greet performances. Conan Brian reported recently that he had to perform in front of a sea of iPads. People aren’t enjoying performances and talks with eyes and ears anymore, but with their electronic third eye. Armed with devices to record everything, even parents are clogging auditoriums at plays and dance recitals etc. I guess parents will have to find new ways to model good behavior or protest against the heavy use of smart devices.
Today, we record every moment of life with smart phones, even near death experiences. I’m not talking just “127 Hours”, the movie, or as some would say fantasy, where the dying mountaineer is trapped under a boulder and has to sever his arm to survive and records his last words and moments to his loved ones. In his situation, he is like any author leaving words and images for us to cherish posthumously, and it is in fact based on a true story. Having no writing instruments, the mountaineer’s way of asking forgiveness to those he wronged was recording every moment on his device.
He was dying, but we are not. We are alive; using social media to live, not to commemorate our life like the mountaineer. We wake up to our devices, and keep it near all day long [evidence can be seen in the no. of cracked screens we see on subways or the thuds from a phone reaching the ground because hands are full or pockets shallow]. Even at funerals selfies are posted; supported by various media including tumblr. People are becoming micro stars on youtube, too, although distribution companies are pouncing on their viral videos. They, too wish to grab these micro stars and cut a deal and make YouTube richer.
I look down from my third floor window onto the street every day and see people with their eyes on their devices, not looking straight ahead; old, young, in between. I hope they’ve memorized the roads, but on a busier street eyes-glued-to-a-device can be dangerous, even fatal especially while crossing a street. They’re like the dozens of people we see every day riding the subway, deeply absorbed in their smartphones, oblivious to the world around them. Sometimes sitting next to some people, I notice there’s nothing on the screen; people are just flicking thru their various media or just staring obsessively at their devices as though they’re thinking what they should read or see or google next. They seem more comfortable interacting with their devices than with one another. Gone is the era of eyes meeting others’ eyes, the way it used to be; gone are the way people met each other. So much is being missed because social media is shuttering their eyes to the world of the real. And it is quite unsettling when you this onscreen because it makes you reflect; like in the film “Her“.
But in all fairness, the obsession and fixity to screen may be due to the influx of info coming our way. Info flies faster than light. But it also requires us to be more and more savvy and discerning about the use of technology when we read things people post. Recently, on my FB, some folks posted many likes and comments for pope Francis: the article quoted the pope as saying that hell no longer exists but is just a metaphor for a solitary soul; that all religions are equal; that god is evolving like us [god forbid this be true! as we’ve killed off god in the postmodern movement forward] and that the catholic church is going to ordain women as cardinals priests and bishops. Francis got a lot of approval and people –including me- who posted and reposted the article. A bit later, a friend on the other side of the world informed me that the article was written by a satirical magazine, therefore untrue. This is only one example to show how easily we can become a generation of misinformed and misguided folks. Our third eye doesn’t shut to let our minds blink and take distance. We want to believe what we read and not take time to verify its authenticity. We’ve become hotspots for quick knowledge, Wikipedia style. No reference required; just a desire and a device to immortalize moments and ‘knowledge’.
Today, we can’t wait to attend to our various ‘flows’ of information via fb, twitter, tumblr, Instagram. When Homi Bhabha spoke about flows of information in his ground breaking work Location of culture he was talking about how capital flows affect the world globally and how ‘data flows’ make it possible for the world systems to run smoother and cross frontiers without physicality; before our physical presence was required to cross frontiers. When bhabha spoke about data flows, he wasn’t talking about the endless barrage of checking alerts, reading social media streams, replying to non-urgent email and texts messages. He hadn’t yet met this generation of social media. “Flow” has now taken on an almost exclusively technological meaning; everyone has adapted to smart devicing, like ducks to water.
Our dependence on the technology has become so ubiquitous and omnipresent and there’s no getting out of it as we become more and more advanced technologically; better and smarter devices to better and offer more thinks and satisfaction. We cannot escape it, but only try to see it for what it is. Perhaps the movie “men women and children” may seem ridiculous when you see fathers and sons going on same sites to view porn, or mothers scoping out men to meet to spice up their marriage or teens texting and sexting while shopping with parents or while in class, but we may not be far from that situation.