As I drove home this evening I got into another heated argument with my GPS. She doesn’t understand me. She never has. Every time I try to take a short cut to my destination, she hollers, “Whenever possible, take a legal U-turn.” First of all, this is Florida. Taking any U-turn, legal or otherwise, usually involves an altercation with a blue hair driving a huge automobile with fins, or with a disoriented cow who has wandered out of its field. What choice do I have but ignore the maniacal electronic wench, and simply go my own way.
The so-called Information Age bugs me, and I’m unashamed to say so. It’s not because I’m old, although I am, but because human beings are simply not capable of absorbing, digesting, and effectively using the ridiculously large amount of information that is being passed, willy-nilly, between their ears.
YouTube is a popular means of information sharing, but is merely a distraction from real life. It mirrors the lives of other people, and everyone else revels in it like it’s a reality TV show, in place of actually living out the subtle, and sometimes fantastic, nuances of their own lives. I’ve gone into restaurants and observed couples sitting across from each other, not conversing or even recognizing each other’s presence, both completely absorbed in the visual emissions of small hand-held devices that offer a window into a strange new world of facts, fabrication, and excitement for the intellectually deficient. Occasionally these couples will laugh at the same exact time, as if they were sharing a funny thought with each other, and then immediately immerse themselves back into the glowing screens of their respective electronic devices, falling deeper and deeper into their own personal voids. Cell phones are occasionally used as communication devices, but few people ever hear a human voice on such a contraption. Texting is the most popular form of communication, as it completely eliminates the need to actually talk to another human being.
I own a lap top computer. I’m typing on it right now. Occasionally I use it for something more than a typewriter; sometimes I use it to gather information . My computer, however, often misinterprets my questions and my searches. Sometimes I think it doesn’t understand me at all. From what I’ve been able to comprehend, my computer thinks I’m a gay Flamenco dancer named Earl who enjoys shopping at Bass Pro Shop.
Facebook, however, seems more functional than most of the things that actually show up on my computer screen. It allows me to completely ignore the daunting task of making plans to visit my old friends – by encouraging me to post information about my life in an informative way, but in a data stream that precludes intelligent and meaningful responses, thus preparing me for a life of approved interaction with others in the Electronic Age. Twitter takes it one step further by restricting a person’s intellectual discourse to 140 characters, including a variety of abbreviations that are so bereft of content that few messages would even make a decent bumper sticker.
I even have a problem with CDs and DVDs. I listen to albums. Digital music compresses the sound so much that it has become flat and barely recognizable as sound. CDs are convenient, but they don’t have any real sound quality. Now, I do recognize that DVDs have great picture quality, but I can’t stand the big hand that pops up every time I want to fast – forward through a meaningless, irrelevant commercial. I choose VCRs because they give me the freedom to decide what I’d like to watch.
The Information Age, and the electronic technology associated with it, do little to give me faith in the future advancement of humanity. We live in an age of unlimited informational resources, but we represent an inexhaustible supply of ignorance, apathy, and an entire generation (or two) of uninformed voters, the likes of which do not exist anywhere else on this planet. All of our freedom, and all of our information, has simply made us stupid, and a little more smug. Trying to find actual, relevant, and worthwhile information on the Internet is like trying to locate a snail turd on the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
So why do we even bother pretending that we are actually advancing, or learning, or evolving in any sense, whatsoever?
In the meantime, I will continue to drive around, pretending not to look for answers, pretending not to care, quietly listening to my GPS as she berates me any time I try to execute my God-given right of free will. My relationship with her these days is tense, at best. Not only does she insist that her directions are best, but she yells at me every time I get gutsy enough to ignore her demands and go my own way.
In the seventies we were warned about “Big Brother” by the conspiracy theorists who wandered the halls of our schools and our malls and our workplaces. And we ignored them, as one normally ignores crazy people. But walk into a school, or a mall, or a restaurant, or even your workplace – and see who’s tuning into the electronic circus that is social media. Observe the information, and how and where it is being disseminated. Think about times when people talked and thought and interacted and loved and cared and shared.
And then ask yourself – Now who’s crazy?