I’ve been listening to a lot of videos and podcasts recently about how the advancement of technology is increasingly disconnecting us from the natural world. It’s something that I’ve thought about before, but recently it’s been increasingly at the forefront of my mind.
Something about the way that I live just doesn’t seem normal. By the standards of modern society it actually is quite normal. I do work on a computer, sometimes in an office, sometimes from home (that latter part having only recently become normal). I live in a house, in a small development with a bunch of neighbors who mostly do the same. I sometimes talk to a couple of my nearest neighbors, but for the most part I am unfamiliar with them. Most of what I do is on a screen, whether for work or pleasure, or for educational purposes.
Technology improves our lives in many ways. It’s not that it is inherently a bad thing, but much of the time I think we find ourselves being enthralled by it. Scrolling through Twitter endlessly, searching for an argument with some anonymous person. But is it a person? It very well may not be. One irony of the internet is that when we interact someone there, we may do so forgetting that a real person is on the other end of our cruel words – but we also can’t be sure that the things we’re seeing posted were actually written by humans at all – bots increasingly muddy the waters of online discourse. (See the “Dead Internet Theory”: https://youtu.be/9WB5grLMXkU)
That’s unnatural. How are we meant to come to a common understanding if we can’t even know that we’re engaging with something real? Aside from that, the internet has connected people with fringe beliefs into communities that justify those beliefs. For example, flat earthers. Pre-internet, those who truly believed in a flat earth were less numerous than they are post. The spread and pervasiveness of pornography has increased tremendously, never more than a few clicks away when temptation strikes. It creates a world where the fake is easier than the real. The advancement toward virtual reality threatens to move that line even further. Why do work to better your life when you can just load up whatever life you want and pretend it’s the real thing?
There’s also the simpler matters of disconnect from nature. We wake up to alarm clocks to get to a job at a particular time, which really has no bearing to anything meaningful. Whether the sun has risen or set has very little impact on us. Our time is so arbitrary that for large portions of the year we pretend that if we change the time on the clock for one hour we are somehow creating an extra hour of daylight (I did the math, the sun stays up the same amount of time either way). Just the other day someone was telling me that she can only eat meat because she’s convinced herself it comes from the grocery store. Most of us know next to nothing about working the earth.
I don’t know how to get to something approximating “normal” as I conceive it. But a start is to take small steps and experiment with reducing or eliminating certain types of technology. For me, going “all the way” has some serious challenges. I work in Information Security – that is going to necessitate a certain amount of exposure to computers. But, it’s also not necessarily about taking it all the way – just getting closer and learning what technology I can have a healthy relationship with, and what I can’t.
My first experiment is a simple one. My iPhone’s touch screen recently started glitching out, becoming increasingly difficult to use. At first I started to look toward replacing it with a new one, but then I recognized an opportunity. Do I need a smartphone? Is my relationship with a smartphone a healthy one? I honestly think the answer to both questions is no. And so 3 days ago I pulled the sim card out of my iPhone 11 and placed it into a Nokia 2780 flip phone. It’s a much simpler phone, and let’s be real, it’s still pretty technological, but it’s a real step back from current technological advancements. No scrolling through Twitter or news apps. No watching videos (ok, technically it can but the experience is terrible). Sending text messages is far less convenient. Abandoning a cell phone entirely would make it very hard to live in the world today, so this is also a good example of what I want to achieve generally. Roll back to the maximum amount I can without creating serious hindrances in my life.
Maybe I’ll keep at it. Maybe I’ll fail. Like I said, it’s an experiment. I could decide I can’t stand not having a smartphone and pick up the iPhone 15 when it comes out in 2 months. But, I think it’s worth the attempt.