Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Twitter Your Life Away

Nothing makes you feel quite as old as when you realize that technology is passing you by. Our tech-saturated life is truly a miracle - it virtually puts the world at your fingertips and allows you access to unprecedented amounts of information, with a speed and quantity unheard-of in all of recorded history. A Google search on even the most innocuous subject returns gigabytes of information, providing more than you ever wanted to know in a split-second. Whether or not you take the time to sort through all the digital flotsam-and-jetsam to get to whatever pearl of wisdom you originally sought is another story, but everything you wanted to know about anything is right there on your monitor just waiting for you to dive in and look around.

I consider myself relatively tech-savvy, at least when it comes to the Internet. The web reordered and reshaped my life around 1999, when I finally went online and had a look around. Right afterward I created my own website (I'm currently on Version 7) and I quickly adapted to earning my living as a web programmer. Since then I have come to live on the web and spend many hours a day on it, doing so many interesting and productive things from the comfort and privacy of my home. I pay my bills through the Internet which is a huge convenience - a book of postage stamps lasts me well over a year now - and online shopping and other forms of e-commerce mean that I can shop for what I want, when I want, and I don't have to worry about driving anywhere or store hours or other annoyances. The only reason I set foot in a shopping mall is for things that absolutely require my physical presence, like getting a new battery for my watch. Not good news if you're a shop owner in a mall; I did hit the local mall a month or so ago and took a quick run through. I was amazed by the number of empty and closed-up stores. Also, all the book stores were gone and replaced either by cell phone outlets or really crappy clothing stores. It was truly sad, and really people like me are to blame for that. The Internet is far too seductive and convenient, and it spoils you very quickly.

Mobile phones have quickly evolved from being a handy way to keep in touch, to a mini-computer in your pocket with video, games, applications, music and a hundred other things you didn't know you can't live without. I'm not sure I need the ability to pull up a weather report for any place on the planet any second of the day, but it's out there for those who do. I was thinking about phones the other day, and how you used to have to "dial" a number to reach someone. The handset was attached to the phone itself by a cord, and you could only go a certain distance from the phone itself if you wanted to talk. As a matter of fact, when I was growing up my family had a little "phone desk," shaped like a figure-8, with a small desk for the phone to sit on and room below for all the directories, attached to a small chair so you could actually sit down and talk on the phone. Also if you called someone and they weren't home the phone just rang and rang until you gave up - answering machines were still 20 years in the future. Somehow we managed to get by and survive these monumental inconveniences, which would be completely intolerable today.

Technology is constantly changing - notice I didn't say "improving" - and new things are constantly popping up on the web. Sites like MySpace and Facebook give you a free presence on the web and make staying in contact with all your friends very easy, including those you didn't know you had. Twitter has rocketed into stratospheric levels of popularity, as everyone and every entity that can type are twittering their every activity, no matter how mundane, every second of the day on a world-wide stage. I used to have a Twitter account but closed it recently. I thought it was incredibly stupid to read about the minutiae of everyone's lives as if the world couldn't survive without knowing what everyone was doing all the time. Stuff just doesn't happen in my life quickly enough that I need to inform the rest of the world every two minutes. Also I would get lots of "follower" notifications from these Russian mail-order brides who've never met me but are terribly interested in my Twitter updates, and wouldn't I like to send them a personal message and meet them? Hooking up with disease-ridden cyber-skanks is not high on my to-do list, and Twitter rapidly became a blight and an annoyance. Good riddance to it, and everyone in eastern Europe who is just dying to meet me.

People whine and moan about how technology is isolating us and making actual human contact obsolete, and I don't want this blog post be about that. I view all these things - the Internet, cell phones, networking applications, etc. - merely as tools, extending our abilities to do more things with less work. Mankind has been using tools to augment our natural abilities since Neanderthals started toting around clubs to aid in hunting. Tools are exactly what we make of them, they can be extremely useful or very cumbersome. Technology likewise can limit our interactions or facilitate them, depending on if and how we choose to use it. I know people who send hundreds of text messages a day. I choose not to text, maybe because I grew up without having it around and fail to see any advantage to instantaneous communication in my life, but if other people like it, more power to them. Many people are growing up today without ever knowing a time when the Internet or cell phones were not around, just like I never knew a world without television or telephones. Their view of the world, and their wants and needs are going to be completely different from mine, and the wants and needs of their children are also going to be different from theirs. As we ride the crest of a wave of technology sweeping over the planet with ever-increasing speed and power, some of us choose to ride on the very edge and others choose a more comfortable spot on the quieter shoals and beaches of Techno-World. And wherever we fit in the best, is where we need to be.

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