Some relationships end without a proper start, leaving us with a memory of someone we wanted to know better, but didn’t.In my case, I met the one who got away in a class that required students to pair up for the duration of the semester. Before I could say anything, this tall, lanky, blue-eyed boy with tawny hair slid into the seat next to mine, and from that day forward, we were a team. From the start he liked me, and the attention was addictive. In between pretending to study, we flirted, went out to lunch, philosophized – and I lied when I said we were just friends…
However, this isn’t a story about romantic friendships, emotional infidelity or even regrets; I share this bit about my past only to illustrate something more pressing on our condition – the death knell of our humanity. The weapon of choice? Technology.
Secret Erotic Selves
Regrets have often acted like a grain of sand in my shoe, urging me to examine the edges of human behavior and our penchant for taking risks with our hearts and secret erotic selves. Make no mistake – I’m not the kind of woman who bungee jumps without a leash. Then again, I’ve dove head first into some relationships knowing that the only safety net was my wide-open heart. I don’t pretend to know what love is, though I’m familiar enough with it to know that sometimes it requires us to take risks lest we are left with nothing, or worse – shame, fear, regret, numbing loneliness from not trying.
Ashley Madison Moment?
Was it any of those that sparked my next step? You see, after that class was over, my lab partner and I never spoke again. He simply disappeared, and I would wonder for years if he was the kind to be lured by the chase rather than the prize. One afternoon, I got a flurry of requests for new friends on Facebook, many from students from those college days. Naturally, I thought of my former crush, and on a whim, entered his name. It wasn’t exactly an Ashley Madison moment, but there he was, staring back at me, 20 years later. Same eyes, a little thicker around the middle, now all grown up and married with a little girl just a few years younger than my son. From the perspective of happily wedded, I no longer hurt, but a vague curiosity persisted.
Technological Terra Nova
Revisiting disappointments opens a potential can of worms; we may get answers that are long overdue, and completely irrelevant or wrap up old business with past lovers. It’s also easy to criticize the lack of personal contact from these new media. Many abhor online dating and social networks, fearing that they dilute real relating. But this time around, I learned something about modern love. While it didn’t take an internet social site to answer my most important questions – those we must answer ourselves – it did give me the place and opportunity to ask. Catharsis isn’t guaranteed, but now we have a new way of finding it.
In a bygone era, we might never have learned about what happened to people in our pasts – where the moved, who they married, the children they had, the inventions they crafted, the prison terms they served, the companies they started. Our curiosity isn’t new, but our ability to satiate it has been fully enhanced by this terra nova. Social networking has permanently altered the conventions of dating, friendships and relationships. Sometimes the wisdom of reaching across what could be forbidden aisles is dubious. Emotional infidelity can be as close as one poke away.
Merits and Morality of the Boob Tube
The Internet challenges our commitments, but it’s a bigger problem than that. Consider something basic – television. When it was invented in the last century, could any one mesmerized by those early silent films have imagined what images we’d end up feeding into our minds? The violence, the rage, the degradation of women, the mockery of the ‘Average Joe’, the mind-altering, hypnotic appeal of reality TV, etc, etc. Media is regularly and rightly slammed for its role in (mis)shaping our culture, if not consciously, then at the very least by appealing to our lowest common denominator. I’m simplifying things, and know there are plenty who’ll want to blow hot air in defense of media, claiming all manner of defense, the first being: don’t like it, don’t watch (I don’t own a TV, thank you very much).
Rather than debate the merits and moral quandary of watching the boob tube, consider the point that the technology is serving a function beyond entertainment. In the hands of those with nefarious intent or are simply uncaring, every invention, from the basic to the most advances, in every sphere of life, has consequences we seldom give thought to.
A thought experiment extends and magnifies my concern. Consider two more convenient advances of the last century, the birth control pill and plastic. The former revolutionized reproductive freedom, and now our waterways are polluted by synthetic hormones, linked to health concerns from precocious puberty to the feminization of our men. Plastic is so convenient, and we are just coming to grips with the consequences of its overuse, as some compounds used to make it act as endocrine disruptors, never mind how sea creatures choke on those damn six-pack holders. Want more examples? Nuclear energy, carbon based fuel, fracking for natural gas, etc, etc. Get the picture?
Humanity vs. Singularity
Bottom line: the use of both, modern trappings of our consumer model way of life, are literally beyond our control, individually, collectively, and socially. What’s more, the outcome of unfettered ‘advancements’ of technology from the mundane to the highly controversial is frightening in its simplicity. What will determine this outcome?
The answer to that is truly beyond any one answer or any single person’s grasp, though I am suspicious that intentionality is essential. Humans have a poor record for curbing our appetites, our desires for bigger, better, more. If we are honest with ourselves, Gluttony-R-Us describes our cultural tendencies far more than austerity measures. Why should the conveniences of modern living be treated any differently?
If my suspicions turn out to be accurate, than we are very close to losing our handle on how we use the trappings of civilization, from the basics within the ordinary individuals grasp to the most advanced reserved for institution, governmental or organizational use. Everywhere we turn, our future hinges on how conscious we are collectively and individually in our ability to manage ourselves while we’ve got our anesthetized hands on the controls.
What’s more, there are those already protesting ‘singularity’, the merger of mankind with technology to create a new entity – not quite human, not quite machine – that spells the death of humanity as we know it. Is this the stuff of science fiction or a glimpse into a creepy future?
What I’m saying is this: Technology used without consciousness or concern for long-term implications means one thing: the obliteration of life as we know it. Yet make no mistake – I’m as addicted as everyone reading this to my personal conveniences, a list so big I can’t even begin to figure out how to categorize everything I use and consume. We are, to borrow a phrase from Carl Sagan, perilously close to not surviving our ‘technological adolescence.’ I write this drinking water from a plastic cup, plugged in and tuned out, wondering about more than one bygone lover, typing on my computer built by hand by tiny fingers in a factory in China somewhere, where workers rights are as nonexistent as our belief in our fleshy immortality.
©2010-2012 www.TinamarieBernard.com; PARTIAL reposts only permitted with link back to original article.