Okay, that’s dramatic. Aside from some recently discovered cavities, my health is fine. Still, something feels…off. If I was more of a dualist, I’d write about my soul being damaged or something but 1) I don’t even know who is reading this, so I’m not about to start talking to them about my soul and 2) I don’t even know what a soul is.
This rant is about my personhood, and that of those around me. It’s about how technology is making me a little bit less human.
I spend a good bit of each day interacting with data – gathering it, manipulating it, and analyzing it. This data is almost exclusively related to individual people, and I think the things I’m using it for are ultimately good. However, in the meantime, those people are, in my mind, reduced to facts and statistics. They are stored in lists and charts. I know where they live, but not who they are. I have goals for them and their data – Read this email! Like this Facebook post! Donate money! Participate in this community! – and when those goals are met, it is an accomplishment. These people have been reduced to projects, which is a terrible thing for people to become.
Until this season, I was always more interested in questions and truth. I preferred conversations that were left open-ended. Now, I’m more focused on goals and benchmarks that can be quantifiably tracked. These things are more instantly gratifying, but they pale in comparison to the humanizing qualities of the unanswered question.
I still read a lot, but now most of it is on a screen. That’s because a lot of what I read doesn’t come in a hard copy, or if it does, it costs a lot more than what I can download. I don’t remember the last time that I underlined in a book. The other day, I was playing around with the Kindle app on my phone, and discovered this feature that, based on your page-turning speed, estimates how long it will take you to finish that book. This is really helpful, if reading is something that’s scheduled and books are to be marked off some check list. But what about wasting time slowly digesting paper pages?
I used to care more about useless things like art, and play, and God. Now I care more about tools, and that which helps me reach my goals.
Sometimes I try to make an argument to myself that all of this is okay. That it’s okay that my backpack usually contains three devices that can connect me to the internet. That it’s okay when I see people as fodder for a numerical benchmark. That it’s okay when I invest more energy into what can be accomplished instead of unanswered. But this argument is always utilitarian, and really thin compared to the robust beauty of wonder and uselessness.
I don’t know how to fix any of this.
Post Script – I originally scribbled this into a notebook about a week ago, in a moment of over-exaggerated crisis. Since then, I’ve been more mindful of my relationship with the various devices in my life. I’ve been trying to keep my phone turned off for at least 10 hours per day and keeping it off my person when it’s unneeded. I’ve been writing stuff on paper, and reading actual books. These aren’t significant or inconvenient lifestyle shifts, because it turns out that I don’t actually need to be constantly connected to live comfortably. And I feel just a little bit more attentive, and whole.