A popup ad on my Facebook excitedly promised “The End of Television!”
Well, I got pretty excited because I’d been waiting a long time for the moment when we finally got sick of TV and did away with it once and for all. One of my favorite movies is “Network” where people chuck their TVs out their upper-story apartment building windows proclaiming “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!” And that was 1976; TV has only gotten worse since.
Yes, it was about time!
Carol and I gave up regular TV about the time we got married, 25 years ago and we never once looked back. Not that we’re completely culturally deprived. We do have one sitting in our living room, connected to a DVD player where we watch rented movies and entire TV series, one episode a night. But on balance, we won’t miss TV all that much.
Unfortunately, I was to find out that the ad wasn’t about the end of TV but merely referred to replacing it with a computer. Yeah, I already knew that. We have at least four in our house, many more depending on what one calls a computer.
So disappointment set in. Television isn’t going away after all. Like everything else, it’s just adapting to, integrating and becoming a part of the new technology; technology that is dominating all of our lives to the exclusion of nearly everything else.
According to an article in the satirical newspaper The Onion, “A new report published this week by researchers at Stanford University suggests that Americans spend the vast majority of each day staring at, interacting with, and deriving satisfaction from glowing rectangles.” And that was 2009. The situation has only worsened since then.
I mean, here I am, staring at my glowing rectangle, writing Notes from the River instead of paddling my kayak on said river. I regularly stalk my friends and relatives on Facebook (and occasionally post something, too). USRC is on Facebook and has a website I help maintain. I use my non-smart cell phone, and I send texts occasionally. I love my Ipod Classic so I can carry around 550 of my favorite CD’s in one teensy-weensy little package. So what kind of hypocrite would I be if I complained about how tech has taken over our lives?
But I do wonder how often we consider whether technology controls us more than we control it.
One thing that brought on this rant was that Bill Gates has decided that Microsoft will “no longer support” Windows XP, which is the operating system of the little glowing rectangle known as a Dell Latitude D620 that I’ve been writing Notes from the River on for over 2 and a half years. It’s been running just fine on Windows XP and still does. But no, due to planned obsolescence (not that the computer isn’t working), Microsoft has decided that I have to purchase another computer that can run (at least) Windows 7.
Why can’t the tech industry take a clue from the auto industry? Does the local GM dealer say “sorry, we’re no longer supporting your 21 year old ’93 Sonoma with 165,000 miles, so hit the road Jack until you come back with a spiffier, faster, newer vehicle?” No, they don’t. But like it or not, I’m upgrading to new technology, says Bill.
So this week I bought a used HP “Elite Book”; 288 bucks at Simplified Computers. At least my shopping money went local, and Microsoft didn’t get a dime out of it. So there, Bill Gates. Readers can decide if this newer technology will result in any noticeable improvement in Notes from the River columns, but I say: don’t get your hopes up.
So where is all this new (or in my case, just slightly upgraded) technology getting us? Is it making us better?
I worry when I read that people on seeing a burning house on their block are super fast to whip out their smartphones and what – dial 911? No, they click shocking burning house photos to tweet to their followers, while assuming that some other person with their smartphone will dial 911 (in the meantime, what do you suppose that other person is actually doing and thinking??).
People are too often tuned in to their glowing rectangles while tuning out what’s right in front of their eyes. You might say they’re not seeing the forest for the trees, but it’s more like they’re not seeing either.
Another Facebook post recently asked “Is anybody headed anyplace exciting this weekend to stare into their smartphone?” I think this was meant to be funny.
And it would be too, that is, if I hadn’t just been to Dick’s where I was checking out the latest line of kayaks. And to my chagrin, I noticed that the newest models have nifty smartphone mounts molded into the plastic prominently right up front. This is apparently so that the tech-savvy outdoorsperson can click selfies while kayaking the great outdoors to their followers on instagram who will see how awesome they look enjoying the great outdoors. I mean, what else could all this new technology be for?
Anyway, one of the TV series Carol and I watched recently on our rapidly-becoming-obsolete television was “Battlestar Galactica.” In this story line, humans developed the perfect robot, utterly and completely human in (nearly) every way, including having emotions and desire. But it turned out that the only thing the robots’ hearts desired more than anything else was to actually become the perfect human.
What’s that say? I mean, even if our lives aren’t perfect, all of us are already perfectly human; a perfect combination of living, thinking, breathing tissue that comes together to make us what we are. What is it that we are striving for by staring into our glowing rectangles? What is it we are hoping to become?
Some people can’t see the forest for the trees, and others can’t see the trees for the forest. But if we spend the vast majority of our time staring at glowing rectangles, we’re not seeing either.
So put down that glowing rectangle (after you’re done reading “Notes from the River”, of course) and go see the world, or at least the Sangamon River. And be especially daring and leave that smartphone behind.
As for me, I’ll see you later, I’m going kayaking.
And don’t be looking for me to post any selfies either.
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, April 17, 2014, by Scott Hays
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, May