It’s been one of those days where I find myself slumped in front of the monitor. This widescreen, twenty-two inch Samsung behemoth is supposed to make things like blogging easier – it gives me more room to lay out work and organize windows so I don’t have to click back and forth between tasks. Yes, it should be a marvel of technology, but somehow it isn’t. Instead, I’m staring at two mostly blank Word documents, full-sized and side by side, with barely an idea passing through my mind. What used to be a potential twenty-two inches of pure productivity now seems a poster sized monument to writer’s block.
Frustration; mind-numbing boredom; a lack of fresh ideas – these are a writer’s worst enemies, so I don’t think I can fully blame the monitor for my troubles. I’ve stared at it for long enough, though, and come to one very big realization. I hate staring at it!
Modern technology is pervasive. I spend an inordinately large amount of time glued to some kind of screen every day. When I wake up in the morning, my waking urge is to open Firefox and check Google News for the day’s headlines, then use my handy extension Brief to keep up with my favorite RSS feeds. Whenever I’m in transit – whether by walking, subway, bus or train, I have an iPod plugged into my ears and a fixed gaze on the two-inch screen trying to decide if I’m feeling progressive enough for Yes or mellow enough for Brian Eno. On those weekends away from my main computer, that gaze is simply shifted to my smaller laptop screen. All that’s missing from this strikingly Orwellian nightmare is someone staring back at me on the other end (although that may already be the case).
Is it that scary, though? Part of me enjoys being wired into the world through computer screens. Take, for example, my awesome (read: better-than-yours) Samsung SyncMaster. It’s pretty to look at, takes up very little desk space, and is basically perfect for viewing anything: documents, images, video, and games – it all gets displayed in immaculate color. It has enough real estate to display full-sized documents and web pages side by side, with room left over for my IM client- all that, plus it’s clean and energy efficient. Any item on this screen comes across so vibrantly that it’s become difficult to peel myself away from it.
As lost as I can get in the verdant greens of my desktop wallpaper, I also know what a double edged sword the display is. It is useful for my projects and hobbies, but sometimes I can barely see past its high walls and into the physical world. It’s dominating, and leaves me wondering what might be happening on the other side.
How many of us are stuck behind it? What happened to face-to-face conversation? What has the ‘civilized’ world come to when half our conversations now happen through Facebook and instant messaging? Are we so busy that going for a walk in the park once a week no longer fits into our schedules? Do we shun old friends because they haven’t texted us in forever? Earth still exists, and physical conversations still happen, but the convenience of technology has lessened the burden on our bodies, the burden that used to force us to pick up the newspaper every day, or go out and buy a book or a magazine. More often than not, our fingers are situated on a mouse and keyboard when we could be walking outside, enjoying the sensation of the bitter cold or the smell of the approaching spring. Technology hasn’t completely done away with personal interaction, it’s just cheapened it.
The internet, cell phones, and even television are all supposed to enhance our lives, making the things we’ve always done better in some way. They shouldn’t replace communication and relationships. Just to be clear – I’m not renouncing technology (though after a healthy dose of Battlestar, I often wonder if I should). I recognize how the web and its many facets keep families and friends in touch, and help tie the world together in a very real way. My gripe (which I place both on myself and on others) is that by allowing technology to encroach so much on our lives, we allow the precious little time we have with the living, natural world to slip away.
Now, for you Twitter-fiends who want everything in a nutshell, I’ll make my advice simple. Quit staring at your screen for a while. Go ride a fucking bike.