Fear and the Future

I'm going to try to blog about technology but it's kind of like trying to write about death. So many questions. So much empty space full of fear of the unknown. Infinite space and words and questions. We'll see how it goes...

It's just that as of late it's been on mind. I have always been deathly afraid of technology. It's speed. Our dependence. It's lack of imagination. It's coldness. It's God-like presence in life. And that is before I even get to thinking about it in relationship to Archer. Archer's future. Growing up in a time when the only time paper is touched is when transferred from ream to printer and pictures are drawn with mousepads and screens and instead of a journal by the bedside there is a laptop. A palm pilot. A Blackberry. When books are replaced with Cliffs Notes and the movie

When there is no need to be involved in the act of creation. An expensive camera and everything is beautiful. An expensive program and you can write and record your own songs, even if you cannot play an instrument, even if you have a terrible voice. It can all be repaired with effects.

Anna Karenina took Tolstoy seventeen drafts. And he did them all by hand. I cannot even fathom the possibility. It is like saying Tolstoy grew wings and flew to the moon. Is there a place for Tolstoy today? If he existed would the computer change him? Would it be far too easy? Would he lose his imagination? Become distracted by Dostoevsky's Blog? By the latest Russian street gossip? Or would he have written Anna Karenininininina, an even greater manuscript because of a greater technology? Why do I think not? Why?

Have we dumbed the world down by making everything so accessible?

Why has technology lowered our standards? Why has mediocrity take over where creative genius once was rampant? And what will happen as time goes on? What will happen to our children? Will talent become obsolete? Have we moved forward so fast there is nowhere left to go?

Video killed the radio star and computer killed the imagination. Or has it just created something better? Why imagine when you can flip a switch, when the computer can build a fantasyworld for you. Just click here and sign here. Do you prefer blondes to brunettes? Fame to fortune?

I am quite obviously a hypocrite. I prefer manual to digital photography and yet seldom take photos the "old-fashioned" way. I haven't printed my own photos in five years. I simply point, shoot, upload. I used to write in my journal, edit drafts by hand and write short stories in my moleskin. Now, I can type 300 words a minute and do so, never so much as scribbling by hand except for when I'm away from home. Away from my computer. I frown upon internet relationships for killing the humanness of flesh and blood contact and yet some of my closest friends are people I have never met in person.

Bigger, better, faster, more, more, more. Short and sweet. No attention span. Have a problem? Drug it. Lonely? Chat on the web. Have sex on the web? Shop for a husband on the web.

Does the computer push us foreword because it's fast? Because it makes it so much easier, so much more efficient as writers and parents and people? Or does it make us lazy? Does it keep us inside for days on end, make it possible for us to buy even our groceries with a click of a mouse, express our feelings and emotions and thoughts without so much as opening our mouths, picking up a piece of paper, sharpening a pencil. Meanwhile our children have mastered the art of Madden Football but refuse to go outside to play sports.

When the computer crashes we do not understand. When our phone lose signal we curse. "This stupid thing!" and when our car dies we cannot believe our luck. We are dependent on wires and switches and chips. We depend on machines. Machines are better than people. Machines will not argue. They will not offend us. They will not break our hearts. Ah, yes but they will. They too are not perfect but they're pretty damn close.

Dependency. It is my dependency on my computer that has made me into a person who expects too much out of everything and everyone. Won't Archer be the same? How can I keep this from happening when I cannot keep myself from high expectations, from wanting more?

And yet, if technology has enabled us so much more out of life why do I look around and see very little of substance. Where is the modern day Tolstoy and what have we done with the imaginary friend. We drug our children so they can sit quietly in school and listen. We become depressed because no one can fulfill us like Grand Theft Auto and Fantasy Sports. Fantasy, yes. Everything is a fantasy now, a virtual fantasy. No need for an imagination. No need for a brain.

...Because no one will ever be as beautiful as fantasygirl69 on aim. No one will ever be as good a friend as our Blogging BFF's. No one will ever look as good naked as the airbrushed chick on the cover of Maxim. No one will ever be good enough. No one will ever be faster than our computer, a better chess player, a more fulfilling thing.

As many of you know, I chat with children online for work. Many of whom are bedridden, terminally ill, handicapped. Again, I will admit to my hypocrisy. The organization for which I work is wonderful and allows children the online playground they need to interact with other kids like themselves and feel "normal." Some of these kids are online all day and for them, having a place online to interact with their peers all over the country is a blessing and a life-saver. Many of these kids have never had a friend outside of the computer and I can empathize but there are healthy children out there who do the same? Healthy children with legs and working lungs and a brain that isn't riddled with tumors. Children gaining weight, becoming lazy, becoming empty, dead. Color inside the lines. You don't even need a crayon. Crayon? It's this cool tool used to make color. Do what you're told. Follow directions. Memorize the facts. Be the next Bill Gates. Technology is power. Hurry up. Too much competition. Whatever it takes. Do your research. Keep up, don't slow down or you will die. You will be trampled by computerized legs and you will D.I.E.

Even as we "move forward" I feel like we are holding our children back. Even as we push them to skip grades and excel and be the very best they can be we are robbing them of experience, of soul and of imagination and the joy and sadness of human emotion. On the internet our children can experience the world! They can meet friends and play games and travel to the ends of the earth all alone. Alone. And where are we? Blogging? Researching schools? Reading parent advice and checking our emails?

I start to think about the future and I panic. I've never been afraid of much, on the contrary. I do not fear death. I do not fear bad guys or disease or spiders or anything of the sort. I do fear the machine. I fear that Archer will grow up competing against fact and speed, that he will be even more dependent than I am on computers and cell phones and gadgets. I fear most of all that all of the beauty in life will be sucked out of the moment and packaged on a DVD.

I'm afraid that I will wake up with a computer monitor for a face looking into the dark moniter faces of my children who walk the house with wires for ears and control panels for hands. I'm afraid we will have found a way to be jolly and perfect and numb and we will live happily ever after in an utopia of gadgets and buttons and access to everything, the whole wild world, twisting and bending under the fluorescent light like National Geographic holograms.



Kara | 4:32 AM


Anonymous | 6:45 AM

Yeah, I hate to admit it. I order groceries online. But, between classes on saturdays for five hours, commuting over ten hours a week and obviously working for 8 1/2 hours a day...the grocery store is like my personal hell : ) But I do hear you about how it's taking over our lives. I also hate to admit how I covet that new lg "chocolate" cell phone. Are we all doomed ggc? : /

Anonymous | 6:55 AM

Amen, sistah. I'm sad that kids are too tired to play outside and would rather fiddle with the PlayStation. Logging off...

The Mommy | 8:11 AM

Precisely the reason Dylan does not know how to use the computer. Have I shown him things online, yes. However, I see no reason for a 3.5 year old little boy to be computer literate or know how to play video games. Some people think I'm crazy for this POV.

I, on the other hand, have my laptop and cell phone surgically attached to me and go nuts if I can't check email for 24 hours.

Anonymous | 8:34 AM

The answer to all your fearful questions is "YES!" The computer is as a gun - it is dangerous when used. By itself, it is a lump of metal and plastic. Ten murders with hammers would create a call for banishment. BUT, it was misused as a murder weapon - killing is not its purpose. Similarly, computers.
YOU and Hal must protect Archer from its dangers - teach proper usage at the proper time. Imagination needs time, space, and desire for growth - more of that, less of the machines!

Andrea | 8:34 AM

God, this is so insightful, GGC. I've heard people say before that computers and the Internet and technology are supposed to make our lives easier with their faster speeds and convenience, but we're now just using the technology to cram more and more into our days. Things that were meant to simplify life are contributing to the complication of living that life. I worry, too.

My job requires I sit in front of a computer 8 or 9 hours a day. And when I get home, I get on the computer to check email, blog, and write. I am feeling sucked into the LCD screen, and one day, my husband will walk into the room and see the empty desk chair. He'll look around for me, and I'll tap the screen from inside the monitor and tell him, "I'm in here."

silver screen pipe dreams | 8:35 AM

I totally agree. Computers scare me too. And at the same time, I'm grateful that I can stay in contact with people I would rarely get to see.
Another downside, for me at least, is that I'm afraid to call people and so I rely on email too much, especially at work. Actually calling someone up and having a chat? No thanks! And that makes me afraid for the future; as well as the other things you write about.

Denice | 8:40 AM

Boy, did you say it perfectly. I grew up on a farm, and I had a childhood of playing outside and helping dad feed the animals and helping mom in the garden and driving a tractor when I was a teenager. For me it was: TV? Computer? Who needs those when I could be outside? But then I grew up and it was time to move on and find a place of my own in the world and although I would have LOVED to keep the farm life it just wasn't in the cards for me. And now I'm really, really sad that my daughter will grow up in a city and not experience the childhood I did. However, my husband and I refuse to own a cell phone, we hardly watch TV, and although I'm addicted to my computer, I will definitely limit the time my daughter gets to use it. So maybe she won't be THAT addicted to technology? I sure hope so.

Anonymous | 9:19 AM

The blogosphere in particular, I think, is messing up my life. I've been blogging only four or five months and I'm thinking of quiting all of it so that I can actaully write something of substance. Ironic.

Jenn | 10:06 AM

As always a wonderful essay.

Binky | 10:08 AM

I am comforted by computer technology. To me, it is the ultimate in freedom. It's a tool I can use to reach out to, and help shape, the world around me. It's not a crutch that I use to hobble along one path that is shielded from the rest of the world by information-superhighway noise barriers.

I also have an ingrained belief that nothing ever changes. Ever since the cavemen were dragging their women by the hair, we've been worrying about the hazards of discovery. But discovery, tempered by foresight, is what moves us forward. Still, I like what you have to say in this piece, because I think fear forces moderation. It's because of those who are more leery of technology than myself that I have any leg to stand on when I say that I believe we'll be fine. I don't think the sharp edges of technology can rip the fabric of humanity.


ECR- Wonderful perspective. I only wish I shared your optimism. I see the sharp edges of technology not only ripping the fabric of humanity but the earth as well, the environment, everything.

sky | 10:48 AM

you are fuckin' rad. nice to meet your vicarious internet self.

check me out at: Pirate Papa

Anonymous | 11:19 AM

Warning: This Might Bore You.

What this post really is, is a critique of Modernism; but it is also v. modernist. Modernism has always embraced the machine and said "Fuck Off" to the craftsman. But (and this is what makes you a modernist, like it or not) one of the primary characteristics of Modernism is that it criticizes from the inside, unlike Enlightment-to-19th Century which was criticized from the outside. So. The fact that you are being critical of modernism/technology from a blog on you r computer that is sent out to various nodes and broadcast to hundreds of people (haven't checked your site meter, is it 1000's?) daily makes you v.v. much a modernist.

The French New Wave gave us two incredible films that take the same stance you take in this post; Alphaville by Godard, and Playtime by Tati. You should Netflix them.

k.thedoula | 11:24 AM

I was informed with a note and pages for "practice" that they no longer teach penmanship in school. We are responsible for correcting grasp and forming letters.
I also had to sign internet use forms.
In a week that people in my country are blaming the internet and videogames for a sad and sick individuals choice to open fire in a place of learning...
yeah, games and internet use on the computer at school... in Kindergarten? Okay society, since when should we have "seen this coming"? We don't have a videogame machine in our home. Probably never will... but my monsters will go to friends homes where there are.
I adore the internet. I certainly don't get to socialize with others in real life. This forum, this technology is what keeps me from going completely off the deep end some days.

MrsFortune | 12:36 PM

Dostoevsky had a blog? Sweet! What is it? mrcrimemrpunishment.typepad.com?

Did I just scare you even more?

I'm with you. I don't have any answers, but you're asking the right questions.


...Or what about:





Amy | 1:21 PM

You ask great questions! And these are things we, as parents, should constantly be asking. I think technology can do amazing things for us, but too many people will not know any boundaries or balance with it.

I don't think technology alone will kill imagination or playfulness, as long as we - the parents - make sure there is balance. My son (6) has had some exposure to the computer and more recently video games (and he watches 5-10 hours of TV per week), but his imagination is HUGE - he writes and acts out stories, draws comic "books", makes up songs, even had an imaginary friend - but he also knows how to pull up his favorite game "Big Fat Awesome HouseParty" on CartoonNetwork.com and plays mean game of Lego Star Wars on Gameboy. It's all about balance.

I do worry about him not playing outside enough (outside time mainly comes through organized sports/activities), but that's more about fear of letting him roam the neighborhood than it is about technology.

toyfoto | 1:56 PM

While you've wonderfully expressed a very bleak picture, I really don't think you have to worry so much about technology killing creativity or taking our kids and turning them into drones.

Would you say technology has stiffled your creativity? No. Certainly not.

I don't think it's the tools that should be suspect here. It's just the fear. Fear of strangers, fear of letting our kids be kids - alone. We'd rather they get fat in our living rooms where they can be "safe" than cross a street by themselves and risk bodily harm.

I think the world (not counting global warming) will be still be out there for those who choose to live in it, and that the computer doesn't stiffle creativity as much as one would think. You can say that it's ruined grammar etc., sure, but it's also helped encourage literacy.

We can all unplug, and I think at some point we all do.

Anonymous | 3:49 PM

(yet another)GREAT post!!!
I couldnt agree more with your fear of technology with respect to children. We have an epidemic of obese children with no imagination and no ability to entertain themselves should the power go out and/or their batteries die.
The root of the problem is not the technology however, it is how and when it is utilized. Must children be watching a DVD on the ride from home to the store? Are you kidding me? I see it ALL the time!! (If you're going on a long trip 2-3 hours well that's another story) TV and Video games after school til dinner...no GO OUT and PLAY!!! And not on motorized toys,pedaling=excercise. Bad weather...read a book, draw a picture...play a BOARD game.

Epidemic of ADD/AHAD in children... bunch of BS...hyperstimulation from too many videos,tv,etc.
It's very easy to give into video games,tv,computers,etc to keep children happy,quiet and out of your face.
I dont have children (yet) but I have a cousin with a girl,10 and boy,9.She is raising her children as I will mine. They do not have video games in the house, no tvs in their rooms(they watch tv in LR as a family with mom/dad monitoring content), computer use in kitchen where Mom and Dad are, and solely for schoolwork. They go out and play after school.Or she reads. Of course they play video games at their friends houses..infrequentely.
And guess what? They are normal weight and above average in school.He's into BMX racing and she writes...a poem she wrote for school is going to published in some kids book. She's very dramatic,always has been, and is now starting to write little plays.
I hope she turns out to be the writer you are. And I hope she dedicates her first novel/acceptance speech for award for screenplay to her parents for setting limits and by setting limits fostering her ability to use her imagination.
Because isnt that what its all about for all of us? We all have choices and we can all choose how and to what extent to use technology.
Wow my first comment and it's a long one...


Wow, Lynn. I couldn't agree more. Toyfoto, excellent points as well. Good call on fear being a major factor. Today I watched one parent play with her kids in the mud and another keep her child out of the dirt. We sterilize and bleach and IT'S INSANE! If a child wants to eat sand and play in the mud then LET HIM FOR GOD'S SAKE! AHHHHHHHH!

Children are not little adults. Children are children. How have so many of us forgotten?

Emery Jo | 6:51 PM

me too.

Mom101 | 4:44 PM

EPIC post, Rebecca! You're not a hypocrite in the least. It's okay to like some areas of progress and not others. I am scared of newspapers going away. I am not scared of them developing new ink that keeps the newsprint from tatooing the morning's headlines on your clean white shirt.

One of my favorite lines from the 8 year old nephew when he visited this summer: Looking at my stepfather's old fashioned manual typewriter, which he still writes on he said, "WOW! You don't even have to connect it to a printer or anything - the paper just comes right out of it! Is that something new?"

From the mouths of babes...

Namito | 6:12 PM

So far I've managed to maintain a TV-less environment for the Impling. Of course, she is exposed...at our various grandparents houses, at the food court we occasionally go to, at the gym, at the supermarket checkout(THIS is truly annoying). So we openly share our boredom with the tube and take her outside to play, or involve her in a book or puppets, or her toys, or we do a dance party (the soundtrack to Run Lola Run is a favorite).

Sometimes it seems as if TV is the giant behemoth pacifier of society. If you don't interact with others, you're less likely to get into a confrontation. Plus you don't have to miss the game.

The only thing I can do is hopefully teach the Impling how to slow down, focus on what is important to her, and show her how she can balance her life.

Piece of cake, right?