I still recall the first day I pulled that piece of metal from its wrapping in a box that had been delivered to me by a friend. I’d chosen to have it shipped to her house, because there was some possibility it would arrive after I had relocated to PineBluff, North Carolina. I held it up, clicked the home button 3 times, and heard “VoiceOver On. My life changed.
That day was September 21, 2012, and this week makes three years since it happened. In the previous two years’ retrospectives, I ranked my 12 favorite iPhone apps. This year though, I have decided that I wouldn’t do that again, primarily because now my uses are so many and varied that I’m not even sure I could come up with just twelve. I thought therefore that I would talk a bit about what this technology seems to be doing to us.
I absolutely love my iPhone, and in many ways you’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands in order to stop me from using it. I can’t think of a single device that has so been able to encapsulate everything I want with it, from entertainment to news, sports and time-passing games. And of course there’s interacting with people from all over the world via text message, Facebook, and Twitter.
However, we must be quite careful not to lose sight of maintaining real human connection. A couple of podcasts, including the Ted Radio Hour, have had recent discussions that suggest that we are headed for a point where we experience two realities: one in the “real world” and another inside of our little screens. One of the Ted speakers even stated that this second reality would be something like our chance to explore an Outer Space that we have invented.
Interesting metaphor, and one that Ernest Cline takes to extreme in his book Ready Player One. There, he takes us to a dystopian world in 2045, where all of our current energy resources are nearly gone, causing even basic travel to be virtually impossible. So people spend most of their time online in what is termed The Oasis, a “reality” created by an eccentric, 1980’s-obsessed billionaire.
To fully immerse oneself in this universe, one wears haptic clothing and sits in a chair that allows for the experience of actual movement. Players can blast off in Space ships and visit other planets, which are really just coded by different individuals. They can also pick up items, play games and other media, and talk with each other in real time.
The game’s creator has it set up so that, on his death, there will be a contest for a vast sum of money for the person who can navigate through the entire game and locate his Easter egg. This sets regular people against large business interests, culminating in an exciting battle near the end.
Ultimately, the main characters discover that reality, even with all of its issues, is more desirable than existing in a fashion that allows for little to no encounters of real people, places, and things. As I hear stories about teen-agers constantly texting even as they ride to school with their parents, and thus in many respects not even having the basic skills to successfully navigate a job interview, my feelings of unease increase.
I know I’m not immune to these issues either. Heck, I don’t know if I could survive my workday without pulling out that piece of electronic crack at any break and lunch period I can. But I had an experience that showed me why I must force myself to scale back, at least a bit when I’d accidentally forgotten my external charger at home, and all of the juice ran out by 11:30. I met a kind individual in my section who had suddenly lost her sight, and thus had many questions for me (perhaps ironically) on how to use the iPhone. I guess my reputation preceeds me, regarding my supposed proficiency with this technology. She has told some in the front office, as I guess they have a training area on-site, that they should consider hiring me. We also now have regular conversations, at least to the extent that I can hear over the roar of machinery and banging that never really cease there.
So I guess my takeaway here is to remember that there are folks within easy vicinity of you, so remember to pull those eyes away from screen, or in my case, hands from display or ears from big headset, long enough to take it all in. After all, some of our best stuff comes when we allow the brain to sit and work its magic, unimpeded by stimulation. Wait, I’ll post more as soon as I respond to that notification I just heard.