Technology is–in a G-rated word–a nuisance, but for better or worse it has forever changed the way we experience the world.
I once travelled around Europe for six weeks without the aid of a smartphone. It was 2013. Actually, I had just gotten a new phone, one of those free ones that you can flip or slide around or something. The salesman looked at me incredulously when I told him that was the one I wanted. When I was checking out he told me that there would come a day when smartphones were the only phones available.
Honestly, I can hardly remember the list of dumb phones that I owned growing up. Maybe it had something to do with my youth or the fact that as a teenager I wasn’t really a self-actualized human being yet, but I simply have forgotten what they looked like or what I did with them. It’s just a single, vast blur of buttons and cheap plastic screens.
My iPhone, may it rot in hell, has become an annoying necessity of life. Actually, its talons could sink deeper into me than they already are. I consciously try not to glue my eyes to my phone on buses, in airport terminals, or during any moment–awkward or not–when silence hangs low among groups of nervous people. And I almost never let it out of pocket when I am in the good company of friends. At least once a day I make it a point to throw it across the room (onto a pile of pillows, of course, or carpet at the very least) if only to remind myself that it is a machine, and one that can be easily replaced.
But what would we do without the comfort of its encyclopedic knowledge of anything anywhere we find ourselves? We could be stalled by a monsoon in Sri Lanka and it wouldn’t be so bad because Siri just told you there’s a great curry joint across the street. For better or worse, work is only an email away if you have 4G. But more importantly, video communication between family and loved ones cures homesickness far better than boring old telephones, not to say anything about radios and scanners. God forbid I even mention written correspondence.
No, that salesman was right. I don’t want to say my life would be worse without an iPhone, but there is no going back to a time when I travel without it. I have everything to gain and almost nothing to lose from it. Writing that statement makes my skin crawl, but it is true. I am attuned to the idea that it can get in the way of experience. We can easily become guilty of looking at the Taj Mahal through an Instagram filter instead of with our own eyes; losing out on the capricious sensation of getting lost in the labyrinthine medina of Marrakesh; or missing out on the discovery that our favorite meal in Paris was at the bistro we impulsively stopped at because the smell of the mussels marinara was too seductive to pass up. And unfortunately, this is all too often the case.
But I’ve just heard someone say that he doesn’t own a smartphone, have Twitter or Facebook, because they’re too cool for him. Because when it gets too popular, he doesn’t do them. Which is simply another way of saying that he is cooler than they are. That whatever authentic version of reality he experiences personally and privately is therefore superior to the one you and I do, we, consumer-slaves of the Glorious Nation of Cupertino.
I try to be a kind person but it is these types of people that I wish an even greater eternal punishment than my stupid iPhone. If my iPhone resides in Malebolge wallowing in a pit of excrement, its innards and motherboard constantly and forevermore disassembled and reassembled by Satan’s minions, then these types of hipsters deserve the frigid pit of despair in Dante’s ninth circle, a space right next to Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. Chewed on. Forever.
I’m only half kidding, but I do mean to say that these types are too 6interested in themselves to appreciate how technology has changed the way we live. For better or worse, technology has expanded our borders. Consider art’s relationship with travel. For Americans, The Sun Also Rises immortalized Pamplona and San Fermin. Would anybody take the bus ride out to Giverny if not for Monet’s lilies? Of course there is a qualitative difference in the beauty between A Moveable Feast and somebody’s glowing review on Trip Advisor. But that’s why we’ll always remember Hemingway’s name and not some boob retching out the first thing that comes to mind. The point is that both the grand and gauche share experience with the best means available to them. That means we see a lot of crap. But the trade is that you no longer have to be a Hemingway to share something special about the world. Whether one person “likes” it or you have several million followers, you’ve reached your audience.
A friend of mine said that if Shakespeare were alive today he’d write about the rise and fall of Detroit. He probably would have done it on an iPad.
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