The comedy collective known as the Firesign Theater had a piece they used to do that invited people to attend a kind of exhibition or fair about the future. At one point, in a fake commercial for the event, a woman offers her “take” on the future: “The future? I say, live it or live with it.” That fictional observer may have made a clear assessment regarding our early new century, especially when it comes to communications technology.
I’m not going to complain yet again about cell phones and rude cell phone behavior and the ludicrous and unnecessary danger posed by driving and talking on the phone at the same time. Okay, maybe I did just complain about that. But you probably missed it because you were retrieving a call while steering your family van around a gasoline tanker truck.
Something deeper seems to be emerging in the confluence of human behavior and technology. All of this will of course be argumentative, just as years ago nobody ever really proved that the childhood of baby boomers was somehow being denigrated by television. Back then, for writers of newspaper feature stories, it was open season on TV. TV was a “vast wasteland,” it was promoting violence and it was causing children to detach from reality.
Let’s look at that last one. I do suspect that too much television eventually pulls both the young and the old out of reality and into another space. For example, there’s a problem when a grown person starts believing that they might win a briefcase full of money from Howie Mandel and solve all their financial problems. But the entire gambling industry, both private and state run, counts on this detachment. So that break with reality has, in fact, been integrated into the fabric of life.
Similar to this are the new behaviors of ignoring one’s immediate surroundings while making a cell phone call in a public place (“Hello, Jerry? No, it’s fine. I’m just standing around in public, shouting.”) or wearing ear buds while moving through the world, the music pouring into your head taking you…wherever.
But technology-changed behavior now cuts much deeper. Two weeks ago, a 16-year-old honor student from Michigan lied to her parents so that they would get her a passport enabling her to travel to be with a man she met on MySpace.com; to be with him in Jericho in the West Bank. That’s a far cry and few thousand miles from telling Mom you’ll be at the mall so you can meet Bad Tommy under the bleachers for some necking. And it would have never happened without that modern miracle, the Internet.
If you want to write that off to the young and the restless, fine. But what about the way that new technology is causing otherwise responsible corporations to pursue costly new projects when the payday for society isn’t a medical breakthrough or environmentally friendly transportation, but rather entertainment? AT&T is working with Microsoft on a huge new broadband effort that it hopes will be “changing the way people watch TV.” If only it would do something a tad loftier, like, change the way we kill each other by the thousands for real estate and oil. Or maybe eradicate a birth defect or help to grow food where conditions cause starvation. But I guess big corporations can become as intoxicated by the whistles, beeps and blinking lights as young video game addicts.
That’s right, addicts. An addiction center in Amsterdam is opening Europe’s first detox clinic for video game addicts. Can’t set down the controller? The director of the facility claims he’s treated game addicts from ages 13 to 30, some showing withdrawal symptoms such as shaking and sweating when they looked at a computer.
The Amsterdam program runs four to eight weeks, and includes sessions with therapists and attempts to build the patient’s interest in alternative activities. Like maybe, a walk through the park on a sunny day. Better take the iPod, since none of that nature noise from birds and squirrels ever really “rocks.” Grab the cell, in case somebody calls back because you called them because they called you about an e-mail on your PDA. Then be sure and get home early tonight, because, dude…AT&T is changing the way you watch TV!