The word “allure” comes from Old French ‘aleurrer’, meaning “to bait” which in falconry was a hunter’s device to both bait and to call back the hawks or falcons once the prey had been captured. The birds were enticed to do what their royal owners wanted because the gadget was the one used to feed them during their training period. The prey, rabbits and other birds, were hunted by their masters, the elite who could afford such a pleasurable and self-indulgent sport. The average individual today enjoys a different pastime, but one in which he may be even more dependent on his gadget(s). His online mind waits hungrily for its food. However vulnerable to the emotional gratifications that his electronics offer, he is nevertheless neurochemically rewarded when he attends to its constant stimulation. He holds a psychologically potent device in his hands, and it comes with its own high. Tutored by technology, his brain craves the fast and predictable, the quick lightning strike of the new.
Our technology – phones, tablets, iPads, computers – are gifts, but do we consider what they ask from us in return? The gaps in our schedules have disappeared because we’re too busy delighting in the amusements that fill them. We forget the games and activities that childhood boredom forged because boredom has been outlawed. “I’m bored!” A child wails, and mother rushes in with an entertaining activity to bridge the gap, or whispers loudly, “Never mind dear, we”ll be home soon.” ( Where you can play on your tablet ).
There’s been a seismic shift in our lives, especially for those of us who have lived in a pre-Internet landscape. Our technological gadgets are an invitation to enhance some part of our lives, but they’re also an invitation to be drawn away from something else. As my grandson gazes with glassy eyes at his cartoons, his cute face bathed in the electric glow of LED light, he inhabits two worlds: one digital, one corporeal. Sometimes I wonder if he understands what is real and what is not when he randomly quotes a line from a Disney movie that doesn’t coincide with whatever’s happening. Unlike him I speak two languages, pre-Internet and digital….I’m a fluent translator of Before and After. Like a distant ancestor who transitioned from an oral to a written culture, I feel a mysterious sense of loss. Sometimes I wish to keep a foothold in the homeland of my youth and write on a pad or on a digital device without it reminding me that I need an update. Our love affair with technology seems magical, but like magic it works by commanding our attention and not showing us anything but what the magician wants us to see.
A conversation recently at a family meal was occasion for another grandson to take up his phone for a quick search, even though there’s a rule about not having phones at the dinner table. The search acted as an interruption to call up evidence to prove some fact, convenient to him because it helped to make his point. He truly believed it made the conversation richer. We all come to online life with the expectation that we can ask a question and get an almost immediate answer, but to meet our expectations we begin to ask simpler questions. We end up dumbing down our communication and this makes it harder to approach complex problems. Rich conversation has a hard time competing. In the previous example of my grandson there was a rule about having no electronics at the table. Yet he finds his phone irresistible. Maybe the whole family’s addicted! We are exhibiting predictable responses to a perfectly executed design. My grandson’s phone lures him towards increasingly superficial connections, and at the same time it makes avoiding the mess of human interaction easier. My own kids see life as something they can pause and document, and like their children they value their technology as comforting and omnipresent as God in the heavens. They never seem free of the obliterating demands of hundreds of contacts. I read somewhere that young kids today have as many exchanges with avatars as with people.
We need to engineer moments of activity for them – hikes, swimming sessions, outings. The digital population is less well rounded than we know it should be. We are responsible for the media diets of our kids and grandkids. Just as we decide to limit our intake of sugars and fats, we must keep at bay the connectivity we are hard-wired to adore.
Are we fighting mortality? Without our gadgets do we feel like our lives are slipping away?
Me? I want a brain that can think on its own. Our minds may be messy places full of mistakes – mine anyway – but it’s the honing, the selection of what’s worth remembering, that makes a mind unique.