Yesterday, our family spent the day in nearby park enjoying the stunning orange, red and gold autumn leaves. I enjoy sitting outside and simply taking in the sights while listening to birds sing. I also enjoy people watching. We have been going to this particular park for more than 15 years, and lately it seems much more crowded than I remember.
While the changing colors are a big draw, there is another reason why the park was so packed with people yesterday, a reason that was obvious to anyone who was paying attention to the world around them and not hunched over a tiny screen. A large number of people were engaged in the latest time-wasting fad, Pokemon Go.
Entire families stumbled through park with smartphones in hand, oblivious to the beauty around them. Many people were on bicycles, head down, staring at their little rectangles. I saw more than a few near-accidents, and I had a hard time navigating through crowds of people drifting aimlessly left, then right, then suddenly stopping right in my path. Usually I enjoy cycling around this park, but yesterday was more like an obstacle course populated by idiots.
Something else I noticed was that nearly every parent had a camera of some kind with which they were photographing and filming their children’s banal behavior. Some had a DSLR, others a point-and-shoot. And almost all of them were also holding a smartphone.
It occurred to me that these children were being unwittingly conditioned to become comfortable with cameras watching their every move. They were being innocently programmed to become narcissistic selfie-takers who will have no qualms about documenting and sharing every uninteresting aspect of their boring lives on social media. They will likely grow up never giving a second thought to the surveillance cameras, facial recognition scanners and other biometric tracking devices that will almost certainly become a permanent part of their daily landscape in the near future.
I understand that parents, especially those with young children, tend to take lots of pictures and video of their beloved wee ones. I did the same, but at a certain point I realized that sometimes it is better to put the camera away and simply enjoy the moment, rather than viewing life one step removed through a viewfinder or LCD screen. I found that I was often more concerned with getting the shot right, or capturing some moment of cute serendipity, than I was simply sharing and enjoying the moment with my family.
This obsession with photographing and filming everything is turning us into a society of voyeurs. Today, when someone sees a fight in the street, rather than trying to break it up, they instead whip out their smartphone and start filming, often while saying something like “this is going on Facebook/YouTube!” The drive to post a viral video is fast replacing our humanity and sense of empathy.
At the same time, we are also being turned into a society of exhibitionists. If you have ever seen a “cringe” or “fail” video compilation, you have probably asked yourself “why would this person post this video, which makes them look so stupid?” Maybe some of these people truly are stupid, but I suspect that, for many of them, there is no such thing as bad publicity, as the saying goes. Perhaps a flood of views to their page or channel makes them feel important, or simply noticed in what is an otherwise lonely and uneventful life. Reality TV shows prove that some people will do practically anything, no matter how much it demeans them or reveals them to be a horrible person, just to get some desperately needed attention.
I imagine people who were so busy taking pictures at the park yesterday that they did not stop to simply take in all that beauty are today looking at it on a little screen as if for the first time. As if seeing it on a screen somehow makes it more real and valid. They can finally sit back and enjoy watching whatever it was their child was doing as they maniacally filmed every second of it for posterity, satisfied in the notion that they captured something “real.” I feel sorry for the person who is forced to watch all that footage while feigning interest.
No matter how many pictures or videos one takes, they cannot accurately replicate the rich palette of colors that dazzle the eye. Images on digital device cannot convey the feeling of a warm autumn sun shining on our face. Or the cool breeze tickling our cheek. Or the smell of pine needles and wet earth.
I find the advent of “augmented reality” apps to be quite disturbing. I am equally disturbed when I see a group of kids gathered together playing games in silence on their smartphones. The same goes for seeing a family in a restaurant sitting in silence staring at their smartphones while the baby is kept distracted with an iPad. In my childhood, parents left kids in front of the TV, which was referred to as the “electronic babysitter.” Today, it is a digital device. There are huge differences.
Few parents seem to consider the impact of Wi-Fi and cellular network signals on the developing brains of their children. And, unlike the TVs of my childhood, digital devices deliver porn, sexual predators, immoral and anti-intellectual garbage and endless distraction right into your youngster’s innocent and undeveloped mindscape, eroding their ability to pay attention to anything that isn’t fast-moving and flickering with color.
Parents who shirk their parental duties by allowing their children to waste time staring at a screen are as bad as parents who think they are doing their children a favor by providing them with a computer or smartphone, as if this is some kind of “freedom” or even a basic human right.
Smartphones do not make smarter people. They make us dumber because rather than learning and remembering, we are being made to depend on these devices to provide us with information and know-how that was common knowledge to people who lived just 100 years ago. There is absolutely no indication that the internet has made people smarter. In fact, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that it is having the opposite effect.
What will we do if our digital devices no longer work or the internet is suddenly shut off? How will we access all that precious information that should have been in our heads?
Thanks to all this digital technology, no one reads anymore. Rather than learning and knowing, people simply “google it.” People flock to “social networking sites” that are making us more insulated and alone than ever before. Now, people cannot even go outside and simply enjoy nature, because “augmented reality” makes un-augmented reality boring.
For those of us who still find satisfaction in plain vanilla reality, all this garbage is becoming a real nuisance. I have to carefully pedal my way through the park amid a horde of zombies engrossed in their smartphones. I have to verbally alert people who are about walk right into me on the street because they are not paying attention to their surroundings. I have to worry about being run down by a car driven by someone distracted by their smartphone.
Adults my age grew up in a simpler world unpolluted by digital devices. We are the first-adopter generation and we are conditioning our children to view them as an extension of our physical bodies. It seems hardly anyone finds this troubling. The children of today will certainly be overjoyed when transhumanism becomes mainstream in the future and people line up outside the Apple Store to have a chip implanted in their brains so that they can become walking, talking smartphones. Talk about augmented reality!
I don’t have a smartphone, nor do I have accounts on social media like Facebook or Twitter. I don’t share pictures and video of myself or my family because I value privacy and have no need to seek the approval of strangers. I am not comfortable living in a world where my every move is tracked, recorded and data-mined. I find reality sufficiently compelling and engaging, I have no need to “augment” it with Pokemon characters, weed, booze or anti-depressants. I enjoy spending time with and talking to my family rather than using digital devices to avoid them. Memories of lived experiences are more precious to me than digital images or shaky vertical videos. When I die, my last thoughts will not be “I should have played more video games” or “If I could only make one more post on Facebook.”
Thanks for reading. Now turn off your device, go outside and enjoy life. There will never be another day like today.