A few weeks ago I wrote an article about our relationship with information technology for the Matador Network that I thought would be worth sharing here. I find that there is a bit of a taboo we all impose on ourselves when it comes to looking at the use of digital media and endless gadgets with a critical eye, because hey, we’re all on Google, Facebook, Twitter and any number of other hyper connectivity media, so it must be hypocritical to question any parts of it.
Browse. Not too often. Mostly meaningful information.
As a result, we’re allowing ourselves to be fed an ever-growing digital diet, aided by an industry whose profits are driven by creating ever new ways for us to click on things, more and more of them intellectually nutrient-free. My analogy is the food industry that realized at some point it could only sell more product if it found ways to increase portions, so it went to “supersizing” everything.
This is not an anti-tech rant, but an attempt to spark a nuanced conversation with ourselves and each other as to which parts of our digital intakes are nourishing and which ones are just empty calories.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever experienced that you COULDN’T find online?
My first encounter with a mobile phone was on a day in the not-too-distant past when my friend picked me up to go to Ocean Beach in San Francisco. After soaking in the sunshine for a couple of hours, we returned to her car parked along the Great Highway. That’s when opportunity came knocking. Or so I thought.
I recognized the battery-dying sound of the engine turning over ever so faintly from my old VW Bus days, and I envisioned past trips when a breakdown by the side of the road had invariably led to an unforgettable adventure. Like the time when a horde of barefooted strangers jumped out of a van to help me and my friends push the bus through the snow to a hot spring in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. The all-nighter we spent dancing in a Motel 6 room due to a broken accelerator cable. Or the wicked funny mechanic dude with the taco grill in his Mojave desert repair shop. You know, unchoreographed divine interventions.
My heart began to beat just a little faster as I was contemplating which direction we would walk to find help and what kind of a good Samaritan we might encounter. But it immediately sank when my friend pulled out her shiny new mobile phone to call roadside service from inside the car. Yes, the tow truck arrived within 30 minutes to jump start us. Yes, we had a nice conversation sitting there, waiting. Yes, everything went smoothly, the way it’s supposed to. Yes, we never had to leave the car. And yes, that was the problem.
It was hard to imagine back then that barely a decade later the practice of asking a stranger for help or directions would have become almost completely obsolete in some parts of the world, an anachronism from a bygone age. These days, with every last shred of information under the sun at the tip of our fingers, the conventional wisdom — especially in the super-wired Bay Area — is that the quicker and more conveniently you can find out what you need to know and get to where you need to be, the more successfully or even happily you will navigate through life. Google, Apple, Foursquare & Co, for their part, are making sure that no kernel of data they can glean from our devices to predict our next thought — or rather, purchase — is left unanalyzed, as they are “trying to solve the problem of telling people what they need to know before they need to know it.”
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