Monday, March 14, 2011

De-Electrifying Life

     I was recently reading an article by David Pogue in Scientific American entitled "Gadget Politics."  I can just see many of you tilting your heads, wondering why I, the perpetually humanities obsessed bookworm, would ever be reading something that has anything to do with science, but I'll remind you that I very nearly chose to spend four years studying higher level physics.  In any case, apologetics aside, the article addressed some issues that have concerned me for the past few years, but upon which I was neither articulate nor astute enough to remark. 
What’s going on here? Why do people work themselves into such a lather over their choice of phone, for heaven’s sake?
First, tech companies these days work hard to link their products to style and image. Those colorful, silhouetted dancing iPod ads never mention a single feature—except how cool it makes you. The message seems to be, “You’re not worthy if you don’t buy one”—and suddenly, if someone disses your gadget, they’re also dissing you as a person.
A second factor is that gadgets are expensive, and they quickly become obsolete. You become invested in the superiority of your purchase. People see you using it, judging your choice—so you defend your choice. Insult my gadget? You’re insulting me...
But why gadgets?
...the Internet effect. The kinds of people who peg their self-worth to their gadgets are precisely the kind of people who live online, where the standards for civility are very different from the real world’s. When you’re online, you’re anonymous, so you don’t experience the same impulse control you would if you were face-to-face with somebody.
Is there hope for a détente in the electronics wars? Not as long as nobody knows your real identity online, as long as the gadget mill cranks out new models twice a year, and the marketing machines make us believe that our self-worth depends on the brands we carry.
David Pogue, March 2011
      I hadn't thought about it until Pogue pointed it out, but he's absolutely right.  The uneasiness I had felt about all the incessant gagetry in the world comes not only from the effects it has on person to person interaction, but from the effects it has had on self worth.  I see it every day in my students who constantly judge each other on who's got the best phone (despite the fact that they're not allowed to have them at school).  I've had several students comment on how expensive my MacBook is with an approving tone.  (Mind you, I only bought it because my PC died, so I decided to try a different operating system.  I couldn't care less about the brand; I just want a machine that works.)  This self worth thing is a pretty big problem though.  So long as Americans keep pinning their self worth on superficial things like technology and not on the dignity of personhood, our culture is going to continue its downward spiral of moral decay. 

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