I see others around me, those others I care for the most, jacked firmly into their handheld universes, leaving only the barest shell of a human being behind, leaving me treading in desperation over the thinnest surface of a relationship, hoping to occupy those fleeting moments of transition in the ongoing flow pulsing across the slick screens in their palms.
And I frequently end up there too, of course. I all-too often find myself seduced into digitally constructed worlds of distraction. The irony here is that the more time we spend distracting ourselves with these invented worlds of hollow meanings, the more we need to be distracted from our ever-hollowing lives. We are filling ourselves to the very brim with emptiness in a frantic attempt to keep our feelings of emptiness at bay.
Research has confirmed the association between time spent with online social networking sites and depression, for example. And regardless of the direction of the causal relationship—whether online socializing causes depression or depressed people seek relief in online social distraction—our insatiable desire for increased connectivity suggests that there is something lacking in our lives, something essential, something authentically human.
The biggest lie of all is that technology is neutral, that it is merely a medium for us to use as we see fit. Technology doesn’t dehumanize people, people dehumanize themselves with their technology—or such is the myth. Humans have always relied on technology. We are members of the only species currently in existence who could not exist without technical assistance. This was as true for our prehistoric ancestors 250,000 years ago as it is for us. But there is something about our tools today that reverses the natural relationship between us and our devices. Human devices used to serve human needs and goals. Now it is clearly the other way around.
Participation is our choice, after all. But peel back the veneer of techno-propaganda only slightly and it becomes clear that it is never a matter of free choice.