Listening to this week’s Monocle Weekly podcast, (edition 98) I was struck by an interview they did with author Brian Christian on what it means to be human in the digital age. Computers have infiltrated almost every field of business and our social sphere, to the point where we the vast majority of our interactions are conducted in the online world. Christian made the point that, to an observer from afar, whether you’re a lawyer, an architect or a journalist, when you’re at work you look as if you’re doing exactly the same thing: sitting at your desk in front of a computer.
Christian also made the point that there comes a time when our interpersonal interactions really need to be conducted in the knowledge that technological advances have altered our communication habits. In particular, there are subtle delays in telephonic communications that alter the way we talk to each other. For example, little pauses (for comedic or dramatic effect) become rather difficult to recognise, making language slightly stilted and unnatural. This carries over into those increasingly rare instances when we are actually face to face – we become stuck in rigid ways of talking, neatly cutting out natural signals like body language and pauses between sentences that really do add a lot to our conversations.
The increased range of activities that we can engage in using these little boxes also extends to the world of travel. I don’t think there was ever a time when anyone apart from the most learned among us could have known quite so much intimate knowledge about various parts of the globe without ever actually having set foot in these places. (Hergé, comic writer, artist and inventor of Tintin definitely counts as one of these.) What does that do to our desire to explore these places for ourselves? Are we less inquisitive?
And what happens when we do travel and see foreign places for ourselves? For all our sparkly mega-pixelated photographs, are we simply swapping one screen for another, replacing the computer screen used for researching a destination with a smaller one used for taking a picture? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take photos – far from it – but perhaps we should be more selective with the photos we do take. Memory cards have given us the ability to snap away continuously. Remember when we were limited to 24 photos on a spool? We were definitely more selective, reserving cameras for the moments that really warranted them (like the the photos in this post perhaps), not walking around with silver rectangles permanently raised in front of our faces.
The internet and other technological advances have enriched our lives enormously, but let’s not forget to get out more, and really appreciate our surroundings when we do get out.