Some people say computers enhance our lives, and some will adamantly explain to you in a ten-thousand page handwritten manifesto just how computers have ruined family, communities and the gosh-darn entire planet. Those digital nay-sayers are just barely old enough to have missed the technological explosion, yet still young enough not to look like an old fuddy-duddy; they see people walking around with cybernetic devices protruding from their ears, speaking to no one yet still speaking, controlled by a part of the human brain previously nonexistent. But through synaptic Darwinian evolution, this developing cerebral mass manages to steer the host around such obstacles as light posts, puppy dogs and usually oncoming traffic.
The year is 1994–not really that long ago. There were computers and there was an Internet, sure. Most people couldn’t afford a PC with the new Windows 3.11 DOS installed, nor were they one of the dozens of people that could use the Internet to send files and communications back and forth. A computer was a tool for word processing using a floppy disk program such as Wordperfect, or it could have been a tool to print tractor-fed, dot-matrix checks using Quicken. In 1994 most games were either text-based or DOS masterpieces similar to Gorillas, a game where you (Gorilla Number One) would take turns throwing exploding bananas at your CPU opponent (Gorilla Number 2).
Computers weren’t physically attached to us back then, and we certainly didn’t carry them around in our pockets or wear them as watches. Nor did we use them to exclaim to the world in 140 characters or less how the PB and J sammy you just ate was totally de-lish. If we wanted to express opinions about our sandwiches to a friend, we had to call that person on a corded telephone. If the friend was home, he or she might answer, in which case you could gleefully communicate the sheer magnificence of the sandwich to them. If you wanted others to know, you’d then have to repeat that process to all of your friends.
Back then, computers sat on a desk in the corner of the room. You might work at the PC once or twice a week. It did not consume your entire day. PCs were not used to watch movies or television. They were not used for multi-player games or downloading music. If you wanted porn, you went to a seedy place downtown late at night (wearing a fake mustache, sunglasses and trench coat) and bought it like a normal person.
Back then, you didn’t swipe left or swipe right to meet the woman of your dreams. You stumbled upon her at the mall or library, followed her car home, tracked her daily patterns, what she wore, ate, what time she went to bed at night, and then you planned the perfect time and place to introduce yourself. She would later declare she felt as if you knew everything about her. Back then, love was more work, sure. But it was true, honest work.
Back then, you talked to your children and you talked to your spouse. Back then, strangers didn’t know more about your kids than you did. Back in 1994, you wrote letters to people by hand and bought them birthday cards at brick and mortar stores. Back then, things were personal. You looked people in the eye when you spoke to them, maybe occasionally shaking a hand or giving a high-five. Technology was with us, but it didn’t put physical and emotional barriers between us.
So I suppose the debate whether technology has helped us or hurt us can only be answered by looking around your own home. Do you sit right next to your spouse playing Words With Friends over the Internet (her on her iPad, you on your smartphone) or are you sitting opposite each other with a Scrabble board between you? Are your kids immersed in Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat? Do your kids know there is real knowledge in books, not just an Internet filled with diluted facts and perceived truths? Do they take pause and consider the things they see online, or do they immediately re-tweet it or contribute to a Go-Fund-Me, only later to find they had been duped?
I type this on a state of the art PC and when I hit “publish” thousands of people will instantly be able to read it. The post will go out over RSS feeds, my Twitter and Facebook accounts. It will be available on our newsletter and in our forums. The hive will consume it and then move on–some instantly forgetting the post while some pass it on to their collective hive.
For better or worse, technology has us. It has irrevocably changed our species. There is no going back to that simpler time. In the immortal words of Locutus of Borg (Jean-Luc Picard) “Resistance is futile. Your life, as it has been, is over.”