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Published:February 22nd, 2006 13:02 EST
Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

By Sean Stubblefield

 I tend to resist adopting new technologies. Not because I’m a Luddite or a techno-phobe or technologically illiterate, but because I just don’t buy them if I do not need them. When I have internet access, I gladly take advantage of it. But when I don’t have any internet service, I can easily do without it and don’t really miss it. There are no withdrawal pains, and I know plenty well what to do with myself. To me, such technology is only a useful tool, as it should be, and nothing more. I was the last among my geek friends in the transition from audio cassettes to CDs, and from VHS tapes to DVDs. I didn’t have a personal computer until my fourth year in college. I didn’t get a cell phone until about a year ago. I only switched when it became necessary, because it became necessary.

As a society, we haphazardly rush to incorporate the latest and greatest high-tech gadgetry into our lives to satisfy our techno-crazes and techno-cravings and dependencies— utilitarian or addictive. Not simply as the perennial struggle to keep up with the Jones’, but also to essentially disconnect ourselves from the real world by connecting ourselves to a cyber-world. This intrinsic and excessive utilization of computerized mechanisms has turned us into a kind of cy-borg culture. All in a desperate and thoughtless attempt to stay ever more functional and inter-connected, we inadvertently end up incrementally more dysfunctional and disconnected— because we lack a fortified sense of self beforehand. And we lack the wisdom to properly apply this technology: rather than control this technology, we allow it to control us. It’s not merely something we use, or something we do... it is something we are. We are progressing faster technologically than we are socially or psychologically.
These days, in our modern mechanized world, we talk with (or at) each other face to face increasingly less, and communicate instead more with email and cell phones.
There are many people now for whom posting boards and chat rooms serve as their primary mode of social interaction; presuming a familiarity where they shouldn’t and none exists. These virtual encounters are attributed with more substance and more emotional meaning than meeting people in the real world, as these veritable strangers online are presumed a surrogate family & friends to fill the absence of any meaningful relationships in their non-virtual lives.
Our whole societal infrastructure is gradually separating us from each other and from ourselves, intent to keep us disassociated, isolated and segregated from our fellow man and from nature. Not to mention distracted.
For many of us, our lives are usually so fundamentally unfulfilling and practically devoid of meaning or purpose that we seek to escape from the tedious drudgery of our real world into a cyber reality, or manufacture a substitute meaning for our life in this way. Perhaps we have been worn down and out by the attrition of the mundane monotony in the routine, and are too exhausted, too numbed, or too debilitated for extra-curricular mental stimulations. Subconsciously or deliberately, it seems that the majority of us generally hope and try to shut off our minds by immersing ourselves in an alternate pseudo-reality of mechanization. Having become so bored and disappointed with much of our lives and by the outside world, we prefer to retreat into a distended cyber-existence.
We often watch TV or play video games or surf the net or chat online not in an effort to interact with the world but to avoid it; not to engage our minds, but to disengage them.
Many of us watch TV shows not because they mean something to us, but precisely because they don’t; preferring, instead, not to commit or invest ourselves.
It’s too much of a hassle to go out in the world and experience it directly, it’s too “inconvenient” to acknowledge the world by actively participating it in. Why actually do something if you can fake it? Why go outside, with real people, and play sports (or kill someone) when you have a Playstation? It’s the same thing, right? Just less work.
We typically like to occupy and pre-occupy ourselves with insignificant things to keep ourselves from realizing our significance. Because if we were to be aware of that significance, we may actually have to do something about it, or else hate ourselves. Easier to ignore it, sit on our butts and idly chill out in a vegetative state.
Simply and mindlessly passing time with irrelevant activities, because we can think of nothing else to do, or are too lethargic to figure out what to do, what we want to do. All of this technology we use tends to act as a buffer between us and the world, keeping us removed from a world we’d rather didn’t exist by a world that doesn’t really exist. We turn ourselves into solipsistic somnambulists. Plugged in, tuned in, jacked in. But turned off. The Matrix has us… by the throat, and we are suffocating in it.
Cell phones, e-mail, PDAs, the internet, television, video games and computer games, laptop computers, iPods, posting boards, chatrooms and instant messengers.
This technology has assisted in making us pathetic, or is merely channeling our patheticness. Certain studies reveal that excessive email usage diminishes IQ. A general evaluation of most email correspondence, commonly and casually with flagrant errors in sentence structure, surely would indicate that is true.
Internet and computer addiction is a clinically recognized disorder, akin to alcoholism; many people devote substantial portions of their time and money in playing computer games or going online for conversation and cyber-sex and gambling, often at the expense of much-- if not most— of everything else in their lives.

An iPod phenomenon seems to have spread across America like an epidemic plague, with the trendy white music box treated like a pop-cult icon denoting social status in a white-cord brigade. We want a new drug, and iPod is conveniently available simultaneously as an over the counter stimulant and sedative. Somehow, I’ve survived without an iPod.

A cell phone is no longer just a phone, but a multi-purpose device also functioning as a clock, camera (still and motion picture), address book, music and video player, text messenger, game player, internet browser, and who knows what else. Why even call it a phone anymore, at this point?

We’ll buy the spiffy Razor phone (or are tempted to) not because we actually need it, or even really want it, but because it’s a new and/ or “cool” toy, because it is “trendy”. We want to stay cutting edge and use this as a status indicator to impress, or at least to stay current so that we are like “everybody else”. We don’t want to be left out or left behind.
We did fine without all these gizmos five years ago, but suddenly now we can’t live without them. The cell phone that served us quite well enough yesterday suddenly isn’t good enough any more, and needs to be replaced and upgraded, for no other reason than because an upgrade exists. This year’s model of computer is made immediately obsolescent before you buy it, because next year’s model will inevitably be “better”. Our social obsession with new technology verges on obsessive compulsive, maybe even cultish; and the fetish is not limited to only the geek and nerd types, anymore.

We in the mainstream become increasingly dependent on these products and their manufacturers-- so dependent that when these machines break, are lost or are made obsolete by continued advances in technology development, our ability to function is reduced or eliminated. We don’t feel quite complete or fully dressed or as cool without our machines. For some of us, that technological dependency is like an addiction, always needing regular injections, and stronger doses for our next techno-fix to compensate for our desensitization to the previous format. Many of us are now so dependent on our electronics technology that it is not merely a useful tool, independent of us… it is an extension of us. More than that, this technology is a lifestyle, even, having become a vital and integral part of us-- as individuals and as a society. There are many people whose lives are so regulated with/ by their PDAs (personal digital assistants) and electronic organizers, they are effectively lost and incapacitated in their own lives, unable to manage and organize their activities without these devices. They are apparently so disconnected from and discombobulated by their own lives that they need these data storage machines to provide structure for them, mentally or psychologically incapable of maintaining themselves. In a sense, their lives are not their own, but dictated by their portable information handlers.

We take this technology so much for granted, that we’ve allowed ourselves to become spoiled by it, literally and figuratively.

Considering this entrenched reliance and insistence on our electronics technology, maybe we are not quite as free and empowered as we like to assume, or have been led to believe.