This past weekend I took the train up to Seattle to retrieve the rest of my things and transport them via U-Haul to my new home (or, rather, storage unit). While I was waiting for my boyfriend to pick me up from the train station, a man sat down next to me and started reading. On his Kindle. It was a bizarre thing to witness since, heretofore, I have only seen pictures of Kindles on Amazon and have never witnessed one in the context of someone actually using it. Another man came up to Kindle man and started asking him questions about it, and Kindle man said that now that he has a Kindle, he reads more than he ever has before. Because I’m a snoop, I slyly looked over his shoulder to get a peek at what he was reading, only to find that he was reading the same book that I had been reading on the train, the physical manifestation of which was in my purse at that very moment.
I’m sure that I’ve railed on e-books and the like before, but I think that my disdain is actually directed more toward the technological revolution as a whole rather than the e-book as a singular entity. Obviously there are certain aspects of technology that have really become inescapable (ie. email, texting, etc.), but there are some aspects that I just can’t (and my never be able to) bring myself to subscribe to, namely e-books and digital cameras.
Two weekends ago when I was at the Olympic Sculpture Park, I had my old Canon film camera with me and an older gentleman came up to me and asked if I was an art student. When I told him I wasn’t, he said he had assumed that I was because he never saw anyone with a film camera anymore. We talked for a little while about the pros and cons of both digital and film cameras, and he said that one of the best things about digital cameras is that you get instant feedback on your photos instead of having to wait for them to be processed at the grocery store or what-have-you. I found this comment really interesting, and it got me thinking about technology in the context of our perception of time.
The U.S. tops the list of countries that are wholly preoccupied with time: we want things fast and efficient, which is why we have thirty-minute lunch breaks at work and eat alone in the car while we’re driving, as opposed to Brazilians, who get two hours for lunch during their workday so that they can go home to eat with their families. Americans have a hard time valuing time, unless we’re saving it. I feel like it’s especially prevalent in my generation, which I like to refer to as the “instant gratification” generation: we want what we want and we want it now. And I suspect that technological advances are born out of our desire to save time and to get what we want instantly without waiting. Your email will reach its recipient within seconds whereas your letter may take days to arrive. You can instantly play a DVD from the beginning or skip quickly to a particular scene instead of having to fast-forward or rewind on your VCR. You can see what your digital photos looks like immediately after you capture them instead of having to wait for a slow elderly photo attendant to process your images.
But I think that in an effort to make time bend to our wills through technology, we’re losing (or maybe giving up) so much aesthetic tangibility.
I read a review of Rihanna’s newest album on Pitchfork, and the critic wrote that the break-up ballad “Photographs” was anachronistic because actual physical photographs are passe for Rihanna’s generation; instead of looking at photographs, we click from digital image to digital image in our iPhoto library. This critic is correct, but it still makes me sad, because there is such a lack of romanticism in digital technology, and such an abundance of sterility and distance. I love getting snail mail because, unlike an email that takes a person a millisecond to type and send, it shows that the person took care with their words and that they value me enough to spend the time it takes to handwrite a letter and mail it. I get excited about shooting photos in my film camera because it’s so unpredictable and I never know what I’m going to get for results, and the time between dropping off my film to be processed and picking it up and being able to see my photos is always rife with giddy anticipation. I think I will always favor holding a book in my hands, and being able to feel the texture of the paper and the creases in the binding and the gentle flexibility of its shape instead of the cold hard plastic and digital screen of an e-book.
I’ve read numerous headlines that allude to declining interpersonal communication skills among youth because kids are so used to communicating silently via text that their verbal skills are waning. I worry that this is what my kids will inherit: this digitally over-stimulated way of life that simplifies what doesn’t necessarily need simplifying. I worry that my kids won’t be able to spell because they’ll use SpellCheck to proofread their papers; I worry that my kids will want cell phones when they’re eight years old so that they can text their friends in class; I worry that my kids schools will require e-books instead of textbooks, and that my kids may never know what real books are, or even that they may regard them with incredulous and mocking curiosity. I worry that if technology continues to advance at the rate it has been, that we’ll all end up like the morbidly obese humans in Wall-E, eyes glued to a television screen and riding around on hovercrafts until their muscles atrophy and they lose the ability to walk. The future looks like a scary place.
I appreciate what technology can do for people and I definitely reap the benefits of it in my everyday life. I just question technology especially in the context of entertainment and correspondence, and at what cost we are embracing it. (Blogs the girl on her laptop.)