Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ghosts in the Machine

We are the new ghosts in the machine. Our lives are now inside the virtual world on the other side of the screen. TV couldn't do it. Talk radio gave us the first glimpse of it. But, the internet has succeeded completely in creating a world that matters to us.

How many of us get up in the mornings on weekends, have breakfast and head straight to the computer? I do it, I confess. There's simply nothing here that needs my attention. Nothing here that gets my interest. And so, I come downstairs, turn on these screens, and look out there. Are we all doing it?

Work is no different. Our work days are spent staring into the screen too. Contact with our co-workers is done via email or instant messaging. We produce the results of our work in a virtual world, and nobody ever sees them.

Are we all just turning away from our lives and searching the murky world of the network for something meaningful? Is there anything meaningful out there? Or in there? I'm starting to have my doubts.

We live in an isolated world now. Never before have people been so disconnected from each other. Look at the rise of phone and online dating services. You wouldn't see these things advertised on TV if they weren't making money. People need connections to other humans, and if they are turning to these virtual versions of human contact, they can't be getting it in "real life".

What does this say about us as a species? What if lab rats stopped socializing with each other and started spending their days and nights in front of walls pushing buttons? Would we call that sane behavior? We would think there is something wrong with them. We'd euthanize and dissect them to see if we could find the source of the strange behavior.

The scary thing is, I don't think it will ever change. We're not going to turn off our radios. We're not going to turn off our TV's. We're not going to turn off our computers. As a species, we're not capable of that kind of discipline. We're hooked. We need them now to survive.

One of the big internet providers started limiting bandwidth usage by their customers this month. They made a lot of people very unhappy. Just the idea that they might get less internet had them crying out foul. Less connection. Less world.

What a strange thing it is to be human now.

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