Fifteen years is a very short time, barely half a generation. But revolutionary years are longer than regular years. FIfteen years ago I mainly used the computer as a word processor. I counted it as a great advance over the acoustic typewriter and the filing cabinet. That was before the internet picked the world of communications up and shook it. We have experienced a digital revolution and a connectivity revolution. Fifteen years ago the internet was mainly used by geeks and academics and if you wanted a mobile phone you needed a pack animal just to haul the power supply which was as big as a car battery. We live in a different world now. A technological generation is shorter than a human generation and today a media center which only yesterday took a bus to carry now fits into the palm of your hand. We have experienced a revolution larger and more significant than the French or Industrial and we are still wondering whether Napoleon or the Jacobins or the Fourth Estate will end up running the place. My bet is on the bureaucrats.
At some point just prior to the turn of the century a critical mass was reached. World culture and technology were smashed so tightly together that a nuclear reaction occurred and amid violence and inevitability our landscape was blasted bare and new elements were born. It was about the time that AOL opened up shop and the internet became a popular fact of life. Just ten years ago a guy in Dallas with the arcane name of WebGuy did a publicity stunt/promotion where he stayed in his crib for a whole year and did all his transactions on the internet. This was a novel idea a mere ten years ago, something worthy of media attention. To think of someone actually conducting the business of his day to day life in cyberspace was futuristic and foreign. Today almost everyone works, socializes and does business on the web. The notion of living our lives online is not at all farfetched. Computer games are nearly as convincing as surrealism.
For some of us cyberspace is more concrete than our flesh-and-blood lives. I know people who won’t accept anything as fact if it can’t be googled. Ten years ago Google was naught but mathematical slang for ten to the hundredth power or some unimaginably large number. Now it’s a verb and the web search has transformed the way we think about information and the way we do business.
All of this has happened with mind-melting speed. I came of age in the 1960’s. Those were supposed to be turbulent years of great change and revolution. To be sure, I wasn’t growing up in the same world in which my parents grew up, but even that generational upheaval was nothing compared to what we are witnessing now. Today’s teenager was born into the digital world, the networked world. She is perfectly at home in our universe of hyper-connectivity. She can say practically anything she wants with two thumbs and a handful of emoticons. She is more connected than the Mafia. She is growing up in a world that either simply mystifies her parents or one in which they struggle to adjust. Every day there are new apps to be learned, new acronyms to be deciphered. Often The Poet’s Eye sees the child tutoring the parent. The digital networked world has promised to simplicate but instead has complified our lives.
The question arises, does all of this connectivity really connect us or does it isolate us by giving us an illusion of connection? Does learning the musical taste or political passion or eating, drinking and sleeping habits of otherwise anonymous people on Facebook really constitute ‘knowing’ them? Are there really people on the other side of that screen or is it all just a simulation, a computer game?
I don’t play computer games for the same reason that I never sniffed glue. It’s because I have watched people as they do these things and decided that I didn’t want to look like that. When a person sniffs glue he becomes a gibbering idiot. If you have ever watched someone do this to themselves you will know what I mean. Likewise, have you ever observed someone who is playing computer games? They reach a state of involvement that resembles a trance. It’s a glassy-eyed visage that I don’t want to see in my mirror. As a poet I feel the tension between the digital world and the world of flesh and blood.
Computers aren’t as lucky as human beings. They aren’t granted the comfort of forgetfulness. Computers remember everything but people don’t. This is why we are more and more entrusting the moment-to-moment management of our lives to computers. Repetition is their forte. They never forget and they never take a coffee break. One has to see the absurdity of this construct. We have forgetful, emotional, passionate and erratic human beings living in a world largely defined and managed by all-knowing, unforgiving, cold calculating machines. The mismatch is almost biblical. Certainly having digital slaves to take care of our clerical heavy lifting frees up our time for more vital pursuits such as playing air guitar or keeping up with our friend’s diet and sanitary habits on Facebook, but we must wonder if man is creating technology or if technology is creating man.
The Poet’s Eye can’t see far enough over the horizon to know whether our society will be improved and streamlined by the digital revolution or simply tied into a tighter knot but still thinks that his computer is a vast improvement over the old Underwood.
You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead