Over the past few years we’ve seen incredible advances in our everyday tech.
Phones are now the supercomputers of a few years ago, tablets are replacing cumbersome PCs with lightweight, touch-friendly devices, and even our TVs are talking to the internet. Surely this is a golden age. Or is it?
Recently I’ve noticed a quiet trend towards people eschewing the power of their gadgets and instead reverting to a non-digital state. Some have instituted days when they turn off their phones or computers, thus escaping their time-sapping clutches. Others have gone off line completely, including Paul Miller a notable writer for high profile tech blog The Verge who went an entire year without using the internet.
It’s becoming cool to erase, or at least take a break, from your Facebook account. Twitter is often reduced disparagingly to a site where people just talk about their dining habits, and for the visual version you head to Instagram. Then of course there’s the worrying trend of governments spying on us, hackers trying to steal our identities, and the entertainment industries wanting access to our records so they can check whether we’ve downloaded any of their content illegally.
What is going on? How did we get here so quickly?
For years I’ve been a passionate advocate for the internet. Its open nature empowers everyone to attempt things that up until now would have been impossible without the backing of rich patrons or corporate entities. Want to write a book and sell it worldwide? Pick your, mostly free, software and off you go. Want to shoot a movie? Grab a digital camera and, mostly inexpensive, editing software then head to Vimeo or Youtube. Want to start a business? Form a resistance movement? Blog about parenting? The internet has you covered.
So why all the negativity?
Well, I have a theory. Something else not uncommon online.
You see if many of us were actually doing the things listed above then I think we’d be rosy cheeked at the splendour of the world wide web. But most of us don’t. Instead we do the normal stuff of life. Post on Facebook what TV show we’re watching, Tweet a shortcut to an article that confirms one of our beliefs, and yes, a picture of food on Instagram. In fact I’ve noticed that over time the internet has actually become smaller for me.
Government intervention again? No. Laziness.
You see rather than spread my wings and fly through the vast skies of information that could enrich my mind and challenge my adopted values, I instead regularly visit about twenty sites…and four of those are football related.
Is it just me, or is the internet wasted on us?
At our fingers we have the collected knowledge of the world – history, philosophy, theology, science – and yet the temptation to check whether Reese Witherspoon looks bad when she doesn’t wear makeup is a bigger draw.
Maybe the problem with the internet isn’t the technology. Maybe it’s us.
Sure there are plenty of studies that state our use of social media makes us lonely (viewing someone’s highlight reel can be intimidating), reading short articles online reduces our ability to concentrate, and that consuming content that agrees intellectually with us further strengthens these mindsets. There’s probably some significant truth in these findings too, but they feel too isolated in their focus to encompass the simple fact that if we fired up our passions and utilised the magnificent tools we have before us…then the story could be different.
In the end we can blame the online world for many things, just as we can the physical one, but the constant thread between the two is that they are populated by people. Easily distracted, possibly idle, very often seated, people like me and maybe you. The real quest that lies ahead is whether we can avoid the siren’s call of one more amusing cat video and actually use this wondrous platform to get on with something amazing.
A friend of mine has a signature at the end of her emails which reads along the lines of ‘What would you attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail?’ At first I thought it was a bit simplistic, but the idea has caught hold. It’s an evocation to dream a bit bigger. So I ask you the same question, albeit with an addendum, in the hope that maybe we can inspire each other to greater things.
‘What would you attempt if knew you wouldn’t fail? And even if you did fail, wouldn’t it be worth the adventure anyway?’
Let me know in the comments below…