3:35 p.m., April 30, 2013

Opinion:

Tech’s convenience thwarts ignorance

There I sat.

My breath seemed to be playing surround sound full volume in the silence. I actually felt myself aging, the time passing by like a sloth on muscle relaxers. My eyes searched the corners of the room to find something, anything, to occupy my mind.

Nothing.

Just tile and grout and a harsh fluorescent light bouncing off narrow stalls wiped clean by some cruel obsessive compulsive custodian, leaving me without even a crude poem to read. This, I thought, was a true and panicked boredom.

That was one of the longest eight and a half minutes in recent memory… I’d forgotten my cellphone when I went to that restaurant bathroom.

Now, mind you, I’ve found myself in tight spots before. Certainly, there have been plenty of times when I was without instant electronic entertainment, 4G, Facebook or Flipboard. But that was almost always in the service, wearing a uniform, and the whole situation was unpleasant, Netflix or no, times when I was more worried about running out of water, or worse, cigarettes.

What I realized during those agonizing nine or 12 minutes was I had become dependent on convenient technologies. And because I am one who complains about the 15-year-olds who won’t put their cellphones down for even a moment (I swear I saw a kid riding his skateboard down Yellowstone, heavy traffic, staring at his cellphone, texting, the entire time.), I never would have thought of myself as having become so reliant or addicted to these gadgets.

A dependent society

These iPhones and Androids and pads and widgets and apps and all the lovely things that allow us to do anything, anywhere, at the touch of a button, seem like just simple conveniences…until they get taken away from us, and the cold sweat sets in, and the ants start crawling on the skin.

When the big snowstorm came blustering through April 8–10, I never once flinched at the cold, never even had a fright when my car slid on the ice. I’ve been a Wyoming resident nearly all my life, and the storm didn’t bother me once until the power outages kept happening one evening, and I started thinking of things to do…. …Well, I won’t have Wi-Fi, so I’ll just play the games saved on my XBOX… oh, wait. OK, well then, I’ll work on some designs on my comput…er….

I was almost saved by the thought of pulling out my recently purchased cello and practicing, but then my heart sank quickly as I realized I’d been learning to play it by watching a “How-to” channel on YouTube. The last bit of hope gave way to the first shadows of panic when I looked at my phone and realized the 4G, and even 3G, was down, too.

This brought me to two conclusions: One was about what we are missing out on in the “analog world,” and the other was the unique new lack of excuses this normal connectivity gives us. First the former, then the latter.

No school like the old school

I am used to reading books, magazines and news articles electronically. I fought it for a while, but then the convenience of having 10 books in my iPad, the Associated Press app on my iPhone and pretty much anything on my home computer, I had forgotten my love, and I mean LOVE, of having a book in my hands.

I fought going to the iPad for reading because it was this cold, hard thing that shone at my eyes like it was yelling for me to read faster, its battery percentage ever looming over my shoulder. I’d missed the feeling of a book, the weight of it, the gratifying tactile feel and sound of pages as they turned and the story rolled forward.

Sitting in the flickering light of candles during the snowstorm, I remembered how even watching the pages of the book turn slowly from bleached white to parchment yellow with every successive reading used to give me an intimate sense of familiarity that made this bundle of bound dead trees and ink feel like a friend, or even family.

Even in the desert of Iraq during the craziest month of my life there is a video clip (I may post it on the Wingspan Facebook soon if you pay attention.) where I was dared to eat a beetle for its protein and held in my hands a dusty paperback volume of (irony, I love you) Hemmingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.” This leads me to the other point these reminiscences exposed, listening to the howl of wind and snow outside.

The new age

We live in an unprecedented age of information. Granted, you cannot read just any blog or website and expect to get the truth, but points of view are available in addition to facts. There are art and design and culture and humor and opinion and games and people to meet and challenge to Scrabble. But even more than that, there is a solution to the flood of media bias in this country.

So many people on one side of the political spectrum complain about the “O’Reilly Factor” or Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, and the other side about CNN or MSNBC, and every side claims the other is issuing biased information.

Well, let me tell you a secret: Yes. Yes they are. Both sides, probably equally. But guess what? This is the iGeneration. Fox News can show a picture online demonstrating the wedding kiss of a “traditional couple” in an article about the Defense of Marriage Act, but savvy people can then search for the source of the image and realize the picture is actually of a lesbian couple being married (True story, the picture was of Lela McArthur and Stephanie Figarelle from Alaska).

Or you can be watching CNN talk about the way a bill will destroy the middle class, but if you actually read the bill online through one of the government websites—wherein, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, all bills presented to Congress, or any legislative body, are readily available as PDFs to the general public for consumption and digestion (by smartphone, pad, computer, etc.)—and one may find that the bill’s effects are being greatly exaggerated.

So whereas I accept the fact that I am close to becoming a 21st Century Digital Boy, I actually find myself with even higher standards on the level of information I, and everyone else, should be expected to have.

If you tell me you heard this politician or that one is out to ruin Social Security, my first question will be: “Where did you hear that?” And if your answer is “Facebook” or has the word “blog” in it, I will be even more disappointed than before if you haven’t checked a second source and found more information to back it up.

We live in an age when information comes so quickly and easily, to accept the first opinion you hear on a subject at face value without taking the extra 20 nanoseconds to check it out or find the origin of the issue is just the most intolerable of laziness and willful ignorance.

So bring on the apps; bring on Google; bring on all the dot-govs and YouTubes. In a world where you can learn kung-fu on your iPad during a break between classes or watch a biography of Abraham Lincoln on a trip to the bathroom for 10 or 15 minutes, none of us has any excuse to be ill-informed any longer. With the whole world of information at our fingertips, anytime we’re fooled from now on will be our own fault.

#wearenotallowedtobedumbanymore


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at home