Putman Essay 2

Jared Putman

What we Lose in the Digital Revolution

In his book Delete, Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger explains that because of the popularity of computers, it is now almost impossible for humans to forget. According to Schoenberger, humans are biologically predisposed to forget things. However, thanks to the fact that computers can store a massive amount of information for a very long period of time in a small space, we have successfully overcome our biology with technology. Everyday we use technology to remember things for us. Phone numbers, addresses, little notes, etc. can all be programmed into computers and phones. In this way we have made another step towards becoming cyborgs. These technologies have become so ingrained into our lives that they are starting to replace and out-perform parts of our own bodies. Schoenberger points out that since it is impossible for humans to remember everything, we are now just off-loading that task onto our technology. However, it seems to me that this idea goes much further than Schoenberger describes. The line between human and computer is becoming blurred to the point where we are starting to behave more like our CPUs.

It seems to me that today people are less patient, have shorter attention spans, and are losing the ability to interact with each other. As we and our computers become faster and faster, these traits become obsolete and get replaced. Are computers give us the opportunity to view information instantly, browse through multiple applications at once, and communicate with each other without ever having to be eye-to-eye. In fact, concentrating on only one task or waiting around for something are becoming negatives in today’s world. Humans, like our computer counter-parts, are being upgraded. It is not that we are losing these traits; they are just not useful anymore. Today a person has to keep up or fall behind, so getting the upgrades is in our best interest.

I think that patience is no longer a value in our digitally enhance world. Our computers have instilled the word “instantly” so far into our minds that we demand it everywhere. In recent years, I have observed an interesting phenomenon amongst my friends. When we decide to go out to eat, waiting for a table is never an option. Even if all it takes is fifteen minutes to get a table and some warm food, my friends will want to go some place else. They also have a hard time waiting for drinks at a bar, a ride from a taxi, or even the start of a movie. This epidemic of impatience used to annoy me so much. Can we really not sit and enjoy each others’ company for a few minutes while they clean our table? The speed of our computers has completely gotten rid of the need for patience. Why wait when we expect everything to happen as quickly as our computers?

I think that this notion of speed has become such a common place for us that we now demand it everywhere. Patience has become completely obsolete in today’s world and we are really moving towards a future where no one will ever have to wait for anything. We are expected to complete more projects in less time at our jobs, fast food can be prepared in the time it takes to pull the car around, and it takes half a second to send someone a message who lives halfway around the planet. It is not that we have lost our patience; it is just that we do not need it anymore. If a computer is performing slow then it is either upgraded or replaced and I think that we are seeing this in ourselves as well. It has even gotten to the point that carrying out one task at a time is not enough—we have to do everything at once.

Our computers have given us the ability to multitask at a level that is mind-blowing. The average internet browser can allow a person to read a news story, check their e-mail, and play a game all at the same time. I think that we have taken this ability to heart and now we behave this way in our daily lives. A person who only concentrates on one thing at a time is considered lazy by today’s standards. More and more we are expected to complete multiple goals at once and give the same amount attention to each task. At my own job, I am expected to keep track of many open windows at once on my computer and pay very close attention to many pieces of data at once. This has also spread into my personal life. When I try to relax I usually find myself using several types of media at once to entertain myself. Many times I have been playing a video game, watching a TV show on my computer, speaking to a person in my room, and text messaging on my phone all at the same time. Why do I have to have all of these facets of entertainment at once? I also find it extraordinary that I can spread my attention so thin, yet never feel overwhelmed. I am sure that this happens to many other people and I think that the explanation must be our technology. We have learned from our computers how to manage our attention across multiple tasks at once and this trait is very difficult to turn off.

Having a one way attention span in today’s world can put at person at an incredible disadvantage. Sure, someone could be a very competent driver, but if they cannot send text messages or talk on the phone as they go, they might fall behind. We have various forms of media pouring in from so many places that we have to be able to comprehend on the fly very quickly or we miss something. It seems that this is also tied up with the changes happening to our attention spans. Paying close attention to a single subject is near impossible today. What is more advantageous is the ability to perform multiple tasks at the same time and to not miss anything. With so much news and information coming in from the internet, we have had to learn to absorb as much of it as possible. I cannot just sit and watch TV without glancing at my computer or I will fall behind. The problem is when does the number of balls in the juggling act become too many? If we keep taking on task after task without completing some first, the only out come is overload. Also, what happens when our personal lives become part of the mess? If we are so busy with the juggling act, what happens to the audience? Personal relationships take lots of time and energy so in a fast paced world something might get left behind.

I have started to come under the impression that person to person interactions are starting to become more machine like in today’s society. For example, I have been working my current job for a couple years now. In that time, like with most jobs, I have seen people come and gone and every once in a while someone gets fired. Now, I always thought growing up that when you get fired the boss calls you into the office and hands you your papers. This is not so anymore. A couple times throughout the years my boss has fired people through e-mail and I have questioned it every time. If I were about to take away a person’s main source of income I think that I could at least have the courage to tell them in person. I would take the opportunity to explain why they are losing their job thoroughly and at least give the person the chance to vent their anger. However, my boss has let people go through e-mail and the matter is closed.

This example illustrates what I see as a very negative outcome of the digital revolution. Computers provide us with a way to disconnect ourselves from those around us and interact with them through these digital middle-men. Thus, bad news can be delivered without ever having to see the person and friends can be made without ever actually meeting. Social networking has made it ridiculously easy to meet people and all the effort it takes is a few clicks on the key board. If we are really moving towards a world where person-to-person interaction is becoming obsolete, then we really are becoming like our computers. CPUs are able to communicate with one another without ever feeling a single emotion towards the other. I know this is kind of a science-fictiony thought, but it may not be that farfetched. If someone can find out they are fired over e-mail, then what news could not be sent this way? I guess since our society has gotten so quick and complicated, interacting with one another just does not make sense. How can you console a person when there are fifteen other tasks that need your immediate attention? This kind of thinking really worries me.

From what I have observed in my own life, I have to come to the conclusion that humans are becoming more like our technology every day. As Schonberger points out, our computers are helping us remember but they are doing much more than that. We are able to multitask faster, pay attention less, and interact as little as possible with each other now. In this new world of instant satisfaction from a plethora of platforms, we are starting to expect it where ever we go. I can honestly say that I have no idea what outcome the digital revolution will have. I am part of the first generation of digital natives and I do see changes occurring. Maybe we really are just upgrading ourselves to better suit our environments but what is left behind is important too.

Works Cited

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger: Delete

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License