I’m shopping for a new tablet to use with digital media today.
Technology has never made as many things as easy as they are right now. While it’s a popular idea to say that smart phones create social disconnection, or that porn creates sexual dysfunction, it’s a silly idea too. Disconnection and furtive sex have always been part of being human. The behaviors aren’t new at all, but the magnitude is. You could bury your face in a book at the dinner table 100 years ago, or secretly look at erotic etchings while your husband was away in town, but the book would eventually end, and there were only two etchings, and neither one was very good. Neither one was a crafted, never-ending flow of sex promising to show you (but never let you touch or possess) everything you want. Once, we chewed coca leaves for a little boost of energy. Now we’ve got pure chemical cocaine, which is tougher to turn away from, or get self-awareness on.
Still, as much as that disturbs me at times, I see it as each person’s individual choice to keep using or not… sort of.
In regards to skills like writing, or art, or thinking, it’s a lot more dangerous.
When you sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil, you are literally starting with a blank page. No choices have been made. No choices will be made unless you make them. If you mess up, you have to figure out how to fix your mistakes, or start over.
When we look at technology, we focus a lot on that last point- that it’s cleaner, more convenient, easier to correct. All that stuff is great. The point we should be looking at though is the first one, because when you sit down in front of a computer to write, or draw, or compose an essay, you’re not dealing with a blank slate. You’re not deciding what those letters look like- a graphic designer in Seattle decided that for everybody 20 years ago. You’re not deciding how that line curves- a programmer wrote an algotrithm to decide that for you, and make you feel like you created it just so. When you Google info for your paper, Some person at Google is deciding which information you see, and which you don’t.
You might choose to trust any of these people, but more likely, you rarely ever think about them. You simply allow them to make the most basic choices for you without even realizing you had the option to make your own choice, though with more difficulty. You allow them to think for you, not for the details, but for the big framework of your ideas– it’s them, not you.
This isn’t a new thing. Once someone started to mass produce round and rectangular cake pans 100 years ago, all cakes became one of those two shapes, even if the ingredients varied. Once ready-mix cakes came out, and mass produced cookbooks, the ingredients started being the same every time as well.
For most people, who were never really qualified to make a great cake anyway, this is an improvement on the world. For the handful of people who would have made a star-shaped cake that tasted like nothing you’ve ever imagined before, it’s a huge loss. Not that they couldn’t still do that, it’s just, deciding what shape to make your cake is rebellious now, and takes extra work. Before, it was just a thing everyone had to do as “step one” every time. Starting from scratch was a skill eeryone had. Now, it’s a rare skill, and finding someone who’s good at it is harder. The odds of that weird, amazing cake getting made by accident are lower now.
Here’s the bigger problem- even if most people were never going to make an amazing cake anyway, making those kinds of small choices, and living with the consequences of your decisions– that changes you as a person.
It strengthens your mind. It broadens you- solving those basic problems. Following a recipe does not.
We’ve been going all this time assuming the reward was the cake, but the cake is a lie. The reward is the act of making the cake, even if it never tastes quite as sweet to you when you’ve made it yourself. The process of making it makes *you* better.
The ability to let others think for us is as old as humanity, but the line is moving, and moving fast. It will feel fine though. Once it’s passed you, once preparing your own canvas seems like too much trouble, you suddenly can’t recall why you should have worried about any of that to begin with.
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