The campus that had seemed so empty only a month ago is now filled with confused freshman, scholars and slackers alike, massive “join our club” signs, sidewalk chalk drawings (an attempt to prompt me to attend unnecessary meetings) and students scurrying across campus to make it to class on time. These familiar scenarios result in some sort of interaction, where students and professors alike converse, share ideas and thoughts, meet and greet, and involve a generic form of community. However, what I have noticed recently is that these events only seem to happen within the classroom. As I walk around on campus—through the courtyard, through the halls of the English building and through the campus union—more and more students are on their laptops, cell phones or plugged into their iPods. Granted a lot of them are studying—that’s what you’re supposed to do at college anyway, right? But I’ve noticed that more and more people walk with their heads down, avoiding eye contact and interaction at all costs, and are tuned into whatever technologic toy they have attached to their hip.
I am currently taking a class entitled “Theory of Popular Culture” where we are talking about an idea of a “culture that sticks to your skin”—the idea that we have become so dependent upon what culture has produced—and in our culture, one of the biggest productions is technology. As one who is currently sitting on her laptop writing this, the culture that we’re talking about in my class very much speaks about me and my (American) generation. As I look around the room, I see a TV and DVD player, my laptop, my iPod, a PlayStation that never gets played and a multitude of other things to divert my attention. I could go weeks without ever interacting with anyone and still remain “occupied” by all of the crazy things that exist within a 12-foot radius of where I sit. As I look over all these things, I begin to wonder if these things I have consumed me. However, the question isn’t whether I have consumed too much, but rather, what has my attachment to technology done to my ability to interact with humanity? Is it possible that instead of real, genuine interaction with human beings, we subject ourselves to easy interactions—ones that don’t interact back? Is it possible that in a culture where time and schedules reign, we create one-way relationships with our machines to better manage our time and our relationships?
My television seems to provide better dramas than real-life ones because at least at the end of the show, there’s some sort of resolution. My iPod can indulge any mood I may be going through. Pop punk for my happy moments, melancholy melodies for my more pensive moments and angry girl rock for those moments of pure frustration. I’ve found myself falling in love with voice mail, desperately desiring to converse with someone’s machine rather than a live person as to control the length of the conversation. And I have also found I express rants much better over email—conveying things I would never say in person all because I have the ability to cower behind a computer screen. I have become settled in the notion that authentic community requires more time, more energy and more emotion than oftentimes I’m willing to sacrifice. Therefore, the technology around me becomes some sort of “substitute,” replacing any sort of deep, human connection.
So how do I fix this? How do I tame this technology trap? How do I go from a life gaudily decorated with dazzling machinery to a life where my strongest desire is to have meaningful interaction with the people around me? If once I’ve reached that ability in my own life, how do I then interact with people around me who are caught in the same trap? What if it were actually possible for technology to encourage human interaction—what would that look like? But where do we go in an age where it seems that more and more technology is being produced, generating more static within our relationships?
I don’t have the answers to these questions … but I’m interested in trying to find out. And I think it’s possible. If you had asked someone 50 years ago if they could ever imagine walking around with a phone that had no wires attached to it, they might have told you "no." If you had asked them if they ever would have thought it possible to fit 10,000 songs into a little gadget that fits in the palm of your hand, they probably would have thought it to be absurd. But today, they exist. We have moved forward, progressed and changed the face of technology. It is my hope and prayer that we too can move forward, progress and change the face of human interaction.