Sunday, March 27, 2016

Computer as Extension of Self

It's confusing being in and of our tech-crazed society while also having watched it become so, as many of us have. While the obvious point to make is that we are all sucked into our "dream machines" all day long and that's weird and it's isolating us while simultaneously getting us too caught up in each other's minutiae, etc. But it's more than that. Back in the '70s computers were tools to help us with tasks we wanted to get done. They were impersonal like calculators.

Now computers are extensions of self. We may as well have our smartphones attached to our hands.

A smartphone is nothing without its partner in crime, the internet. Back in the mid-nineties when the internet was new, it was a safe haven for any nerd to find their tribe. It was a niche to squeeze yourself into while feeling the comfort of the tiny space you've hidden yourself in, like a cozy little warm cave blanket. Now everyone is there all of the time and it's saturated with all the yucky parts of humanity. Where are the cozy corners of the internet these days? Every time you find one (Instagram, Tumblr, etc) it gets expanded, invaded, and outfitted with fluorescent lighting.

In Felicia Day's memoir there's a chapter about #GamerGate which is a phenomenon I still don't totally understand, but it has something to do with boys being whiny about girls liking games, and by "whiny" I mean violent and abusive. Apparently when girls like something, it ruins it for boys. The kind of boys that think being a "man" means delineating yourself from women at all costs. Day brought up a really great point that anyone of my generation I think can understand: "What frightened me the most about my #GamerGate experience was the possibility that this could be the future of the internet. That the utopia I thought the online world created, where people don't have to be ashamed of what they love and could connect with each other regardless of what they looked like, was really a place where people could steep themselves in their own worldview until they become willfully blind to everyone else's."

Unfortunately, I think the internet as a whole HAS become a steeping, stewing, molding pot of brewing hatred-bile. It didn't used to be this way. There were always dangers specific to the internet, but the dangers of the budding baby internet were mostly relegated to meeting people in person you'd met first on the internet. Now the dangers lie in getting your address leaked to total strangers that have threatened to rape and kill you online because you expressed an opinion on Lana Del Rey that they don't share. The internet has evolved into a phenomenon that closely mirrors everyday life, except the internet is an everyday life that's a mean, and usually misogynist/racist/homophobic, drunk that has no filter.

There's something going on with our society. The ways in which it's been so fucked up for so long are surfacing. The dark and awful thoughts we used to mostly keep to ourselves are out on the internet which is now in our hands every waking moment. We don't give ourselves time to process our feelings and life events without posting them. We don't ask others how they are because we've seen their Facebook. We get angry if we have to tell others how we are that didn't see our Facebook. There's a weird and twisted new society being built online and we do NOT know the etiquette yet. We're all little baby barbarians that don't know how to behave.

Last night I watched a documentary on Steve Jobs that got real philosophical with the way this man changed our relationship to computers. I believe if he hadn't done it, someone else would have. Regardless, this relationship has evolved very quickly in our lifetimes and it's something we need to keep an eye on. We each have personal computers on us almost all the time. These items are tools that help us through the day. They compute. They are our cameras, notebooks, road maps, radios, sketchbooks, calculators, voice recorders, musical instruments, and links to the outside world.

Portable computing devices are marvels of modern technology that should be allowing us to create on a massive scale. We have the means to become the best versions of our creative selves with one device most of us own. But instead we're smearing each other online, scrolling through endless feeds of babies and pets, hunching over our "dream machines". The mirrors we are looking into all day every day are little slabs of glass and metal that have become hardware add-ons to our brains.

That could be fine if we used our mini computing devices to enhance our lives. Take pictures. Write novels. Draw things. Make music. Look up information. Read books. The marriage of internet and handheld computers is the best and worst thing to happen to technology in our lifetimes. It's changing humanity right now. We are in the process of becoming something else (the Borg? Oh God, are we the Borg?) because of how we live our lives attached to our "dream machines". We can become zombies with towels over our heads or we can choose to find a way through this love of devices back to seeing them as tools to make our lives easier and more creative.

Jobs was a man that wanted computers to be an extension of self, and we've benefitted from his vision, but it's important also to remember that that guy was an asshole. He couldn't connect to other humans. He named a computer after his daughter I think because he was trying to force himself to love his baby daughter as much as he already loved his computer.

Dude, I completely have this computer love. I've owned 6 smartphones in the last 6 years...the 6th one is on its way to me now and I have a tab on my computer open to track its journey to my hand. I've been seduced by the culture of computer-self to a heavy degree, but it's causing me a lot of cognitive dissonance these days. I'm old enough to remember the internet being new. I'm old enough to remember a childhood without cellphones. I'm old enough to remember a world before iPods. My life has occupied a space outside of the internet, but not computers. I don't remember a world before Jobs put the personal in front of the word computer. I don't remember not having a computer in my own home, though I never had one of my own until I got a laptop for school in 2006. I've only had my very own personal portal to the internet for the last 10 years. That's not so long in the scheme of a life. It's not too late for me to relearn how to use computing devices as tools to help me create. Tools to help me get tasks done. I've given these devices names and I would even say that I love them, but in the end they are metal and glass. Nothing can fill the space of true connection with nature, animals, and other humans. The internet can connect you to other humans, but remember to speak to them like humans...we are not just interacting with the machines we touch. They may feel like extensions of us but they reach all the way around the world. Remember that.

Hugs not thugs, children.

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