Et tu, George?

In a post some time ago, I grumped and grumbled about how the Internet is enabling the human tendency to reduce our social and intellectual interactions into circles of ever-shrinking tribal orbits. Instead of using the Internet to reach out and discover the diversity of the wide, wide world, we use it to devolve inward upon ourselves, pulling a small community of like minds and self-affirming information “sources” in after us.

The Internet and so-called “social” media don’t create the tendency; they merely serve to magnify it or make it more obvious. How we humans interact with our technology often seems at odds with why we create the technology in the first place. But I’ll argue that, ultimately, it’s not the intent of the creator that matters. Our interaction with the creation is what tells us the most about ourselves; that same interaction is also what defines the desire to create. Technology doesn’t create the behavior; rather, it enables behaviors we desire to express.

Think about it. Not long after the invention of the simple wheeled cart, Egyptians and Hittites were duking it out aboard sophisticated war chariots. Within a dozen years of the Wright Brothers’ first shaky powered flight, armed aircraft were joining in the carnage of the Great War. Robert Goddard’s launch of the first liquid-fueled rocket on March 16, 1926 resulted in men landing on the moon by July 20, 1969 — but it also led to the launch of the first sub-orbital ballistic rocket weapon much earlier when Nazi-sponsored scientists fired off the A-4 (known as the V-2 to the Allies) on October 3, 1942.

A bloody minded race, we humans.

Aside from a great skill at killing ourselves, what else might our interactions with technology reveal? Well, for one, perhaps a reason behind our somewhat homicidal nature: Deep down, we really don’t like anybody who isn’t us. We like the concept of other people well enough, it’s just that we don’t care to encounter the real deal quite as much as we’d like to imagine.

Here’s an example. Since the invention of the humble camera, how many people have spent how much time attempting to record an experience, as opposed to simply living it?

Personally, I’ve never been much of a “recorder.” Odd, then, that I studied TV and film production in college, but that’s probably why I ended up in the now-deceased profession of print journalism. I’d much rather experience and remember an event than waste time and energy fiddling with the gadgets and gizmos needed to record the event.

It pisses off my wife to no end that I can usually be counted on to forget the damned camera again, or to take only two photos of the kid at his day-long swim meet. But putting a gadget between myself and something always seems to diminish the human experience of living, remembering and connecting.

The other day during the evening commute I was listening to an interview with George Clooney on NPR. The interviewer asked him what he found the most strange about his world-wide fame. His reply was a bit unexpected. It wasn’t so much that he couldn’t go anywhere without being instantly recognized. Rather, it was that the vast majority of people who recognized him would rather snap a photo with their cell phone cameras than shake his hand.

Think about it. Ever tried to photograph a “family moment” and just ended up pissed off because the kids won’t all look at the camera at the same time? Even if you finally manage to snap that one second when all eyes are front, what do you end up remembering? Likely, the trouble you had trying to get the little goobers to all hold still and look at the camera. Maybe the memory might be a bit warmer if, instead, the group photo was replaced with a group hug.

Yeah, yeah. Enough “kumbaya.” Pass the demo charges, please.

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