Digital and Physical

I feel like rebelling against my elders. Seriously, stomping my feet and crossing my arms and shouting “You don’t understand!”

Why? People proclaiming that technology will eat us. We have been afraid of it, as the article that is prompting this blog post declares, since before there was barely any technology. Our Media, Ourselves: Are we Headed for a Matrix? points out that the first technological room that disconnects us and reconnects us was imagined at a time when there were barely electric lights. Some of what is mentioned has come to pass – we certainly can teleconference with family and friends, seemingly made easier every year. But – how will our lives really be effected by technology?

I think there is a clear expectation that there will come a point where in person interaction will be entirely replaced by interface through technology. This was clarified for me by a professor, who wanted us to talk about how we thought technology would shape the future. We talked about how it would probably change a lot of things, but that there would still be a need for face-to-face time. This was clearly not the response he expected. Weren’t we the generation that was so comfortable with technology? Didn’t we think it’d take over and be everything. I explained two things: first, we’re a generation that has been from tape decks to iPods. That has been our shaping technological experience. We have no idea how to predict the future, since what we have seems totally crazy if you look at what we started with. Second, we’re also a generation that has learned that meeting someone face-to-face is irreplaceable. If online-only were okay, wouldn’t the relationships that formed online just stay there? We use the net to meet, to stay in touch, but ultimately, I think we use it to get together in real life too.

Here’s the thing, and it’s happened before: we’re slowly learning how to not let the technology eat us. And we’re trying to get intentional about it (Google the phone stack if you’re looking for an example). We learn and we adapt and we figure out rules of etiquette. Remember the early days of cell phones? When everyone was stunningly stupid about turning off their ringer? About 95% of us have figured that out, and we’ll figure out etiquette of text and how to limit when we have to answer email. All sorts of things. Not that it’s not something to worry about and think about. But it’s not inevitable. All of this stuff is about how and when you use it (or don’t).

The NPR article added something my professor didn’t, but something that we hear a lot about in predictions for the future. Remember in Back to the Future II (which you should watch, because 2015 is HILARIOUS) how the house was all fancy futuristic (while still managing to look like 1985!)? Yeah. We somehow expect that houses of the future will immediately replace those that are in existence now. I’m currently sitting in a living room that is almost 100 years old, but even my friend who is moving into her new-construction house this week didn’t build a white box. And I don’t expect to see them either, unless we’re all boarding spaceships to find a new ‘Verse in which case, all best are off.

There’s the aspect that housing styles won’t change that dramatically, that quickly. Even if, as the story predicted, we’re losing the ability to learn about our friends from glancing at their bookshelves and their CD collections, I don’t think material culture is going to disappear that quickly. In fact, I think there’s been something of a revival in the last little while – Pinterest and Etsy being heralds and harbingers. That blank space where there was a bookshelf? Now covered in some DIY decor project or something great from an Etsy seller that your host is dying to tell you about. So no, I’m not worried, but I am aware.

And don’t worry too – if the books do disappear, I’m sure they’ll be retro again in another 15 or 20 years give or take.

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