The Ontology of Technology
Photo Credit: Jennifer McMillan
The greatest technological advances have been wasted on the s***tiest generation of human beings that have ever existed. - Louis C.K.
We’ve long recognized that the old idea of a mind/body dualism is scientifically untenable, and yet I sometimes feel as if it is true. I’ve daily been in the bodily presence of someone who, ontologically, simply isn’t there. They are surfing the web, or chatting on Facebook, or texting someone who (apparently) is far more interesting and fascinating than myself. Having only recently been initiated into the cult of the smartphone, I never realized how intractably debilitating the machines are. With my meager technology I could only be distracted if there was an imminent text, and since I did not send many, my phone could, and this may seem incredible, remain entirely unperturbed for hours.
This is not to say that I could not be entirely boorish; I would often pull out my Itouch to read an Economist article or play a game of Angry Birds. However, without internet connection, my temptation was manifoldly decreased. Now, I am incessantly tempted to fact check the most minor verbal solecism or pronunciation or simply see what’s new on Drudge. I already begin to feel my mind and body becoming separated.
Another dreadful modern inconvenience is the opposite: rather than having a bodily presence but a mental absence we often face mental presence but bodily absence. Calling home can give me this same emptiness. Rather than talking to a disembodied corpse at a restaurant, I am not conversing with a disembodied voice, which can be equally disturbing. My dearest Jenny lives in England, and talking via Skype, even without the lag can be incredibly frustrating.
When Jenny and I are together, we’ll often go days without even touching our phones. The reason for this I find slightly perturbing: we really enjoy each other’s company and couldn’t conceive wanting to waste time scrounging the internet or banal text conversations. This realization perturbs me not because I wish Jenny were less interested in me, but rather the corollary: whenever someone texts in front of you they are implicitly announcing you’ve “bored” them. And in our internet age, our entertainment age, there is no greater sin than to “bore” your audience. Be anything – rude, obnoxious, offensive- but for God’s sake don’t be a brute – don’t be boring!
This corollary too has its despairing truth: it provides concrete proof of what I’ve long suspected, that this generation is insufferably trivial, so prosaic that they have bored even of each other and choose anything rather than the companion of another equally dreary being. It seems to lend credence to Louis C.K.’s cynical observation.
I am not in the habit of introducing problems without proposing solutions. But first we must find the genesis of the problem. Mr. Louis, I believe, has reversed the casual link. This is not a s***ty, trivial generation that is lucky enough to have smartphones – rather smartphones are what has made this generation so s***ty. We are programmed by evolution to seek constant stimulus. Studies show that checking e-mail releases dopamine, that hormone that accompanies anticipation, making it something of an addiction. I suspect that checking for new text messages or Facebook updates produces the same mental reaction – who hasn’t felt that jolt of excitement upon seeing that they have four new notifications? What of the infinite number of interactions could have occurred?
If, as I suspect, technology is making us boring and buffoonish, what is the solution? Shall we become Luddites, destroying every smartphone or computer we see? No, certainly not, computers and smartphones can be incredibly useful, if used correctly. Rather, we must set aside times where technology is simply not invited. Last time my friends and I went out for dinner, Charlie suggested we all put our phones in the middle of the table, and not touch them until the end of dinner. The weakling who succumbed to the siren call of modernity would have to pick up the tip.
The experiment was a stunning success. Two among us tried numerous times to fornicate with the electronic succubus but like Ulysses, we were able to navigate the treacherous water of technology – and had a delightful dinner. This is proof that technology can be overcome, with enough foresight and will. Humans can once again become one – body and mind – and more importantly, interesting.