Always Wired In—The Culture of Modern Devices

Something’s happening in our world that’s seemingly flying under the radar but increasingly problematic by observing people interact with their digital worlds. Take the new iPhone 6 announcement as an example. Everyone’s so caught up in the release of this new device that everywhere we turn we see news, reporting, conversations, arguments and discussion focused on the product, it’s impact on someone’s life, and how their life will be so much “better” when they get their new device. They order it ahead of time to be delivered to the door and they wait in line for days, defecating in plastic bags and trashing the sidewalks in refusal of giving up their spot in line. They’re so dedicated to getting their new device they’ll go out of their way, inconvenience others, and take time off work to procure this new device.

As a tech nerd, I get it. I love devices, products, and anything connected to the matrix. I’m excited by the future of our world and have always enjoyed using technology to make my life easier in some capacity, yet I see something different when looking at mainstream, almost pop-tech culture. People love their devices as if they were their children. The loss or damage of a device results in ranting, whining, and a loss of function because we don’t know how to behave and survive without a mini computer in our pocket, fully charged and ready to take on the day. Throughout the year there’s continued speculation on what Apple will announce next, and when they release their phone, the world cannot get enough of it and everyone always discusses the new devices as if they’re the most important thing to focus on.

Now that these devices have proliferated into the pocket of every person in modern society, talking about connectivity, technology and computers is no longer “nerdy.” Now that everyone has the ability to stare at a screen all day long and play games, read emails and work, work, work or distract, distract, distract, everyone is wired in to the matrix and paying close attention to the new capabilities and use cases that come along with next generation devices. It used to be for the early adopters, but now it’s for the masses. “Cell phones” are used as status symbols and judgement is passed on those who may not have the same device or share the same view as the one passing the observation.

What scares me is that we’re all so concerned with new features, new devices and new Apple announcements that we’re going to talk ourselves stupid about things that don’t really matter in the long run. Who cares what device you’re using to access your data, have your conversations and interact with your digital world? With Apple’s recent announcement everyone is talking about bigger screens, better displays, longer battery lives, more connectivity, all so we can stare at screens longer and have our attention pulled from the IRL world around us more frequently. How is it that we’re all so caught up with our devices that they become topics of conversation when we’re out in the world and should be experiencing life, taking in our surroundings and growing intimate connections with the people we chose to spend time with. Instead, we get together and argue the merit of modern digital features and discover more ways for us to detach from reality.

>> My biggest fear is that we’re heading towards a society where the only thing people care about are more ways to connect, distract, escape and feel falsely “safe” behind the interface of the latest device.

There’s so many movies to pull from as examples of what happens when our society erodes itself through technologies. Idiocracy, Wall-E and Her are three examples that so clearly capture the loneliness we experience when we fall into the trap of digital silos. Our emotions become stifled and we rely on non-conscious beings (i.e. artificial intelligence, “social” news streams, etc.) to help us emote, feel happy and experience bliss, but these beings aren’t truly connected with us because we’re always at arms length trying to protect ourselves from heartache, sadness and loneliness. While we have yet to see the long term effect of distributed social networks, digital gathering grounds and non-intimate social connections, there’s an ominous feeling in the air that I’m worried the masses aren’t picking up on.

Perhaps it will take time for people to come around and realize we need to make a change in our behaviors and interactions with digital devices, which is why I continue to call out my fear and skepticism of the next generation zombie-like world I believe we’re setting ourselves up for. People act like zombies to the point of us having cell phone walking lanes in cities around the world, for without them pedestrians are chaotically scrambling through a city at a snails pace – and colliding with one another – without looking up to navigate the world around them.

>> We’re so connected to connection that we always focus on filling our mental capacity and stimulating sensors in our brains that we’re detached from what it actually feels like to have real world feelings and interactions.

We run away from low points and sadness by wiring in to the digital fabric, and we always emote our excitement and elatedness through digital channels because we have some strange desire to share everything that happens to us as if we’re the center of everyone else’s world.

It’s fascinating and somewhat scary to see how technology has evolved within mainstream culture over the years. It used to be nerdy to be a techie, but now everyone has the burning desire to have the latest device, regardless of their level of nerdiness. Because of the way we connect with other people, distract ourselves from reality, and seek “productivity hacks”, non-geeks and geeks alike pile up their tablets, phones, laptops and Internet-enabled things, always looking for the next generation gadget to get our hands on. Tech doesn’t slow down, it only speeds up. We have so many devices to connect with one another yet we’re distancing ourselves, depressing our spirits and causing interpersonal – and intrapersonal – issues that only get worse over time. The way people interact in public (or fail to interact, actually) leads me to believe that while tech is created to make things better, we’re currently in a phase of mass adoption where tech is the problem.

We need to find ways to rebound from the damage we’ve done, when our entire culture first connected itself to the grid. There’s a crop of applications and movements to help keep our hands and eyes away from our devices, but these are just the start. We’re learning how to live a symbiotic life with our technology, making sure it takes a back seat and doesn’t drive our lives, yet still provides the value it has potential of offering.

It’s a mindset and culture shift, and therefore something that cannot be fixed with more technology. As we get better at building mobile applications and connected devices, the really cool and useful tech will blend into the background and provide value without us even asking for it. There’s many people who recognize the need for a shift in the way mainstream culture uses devices and digital channels, so please do your part and discover a movement for yourself.

Only you have the power to stop digital chaos. Are you up for the challenge?