My dad's first cellphone had a shiny, micro-pebbled black plastic shell, a long antennae, and a matte aquamarine screen. A hideous miracle, I thought. When he was home, the cellphone would sit on the top of his dresser, next to a pile of change and folded scraps of yellow legal paper. To me, the cellphone was an alluringly grown-up accessory, a signifier of import, of having colleagues in sleek suits awaiting your decisions. I wanted, not so much to use it, but to be seen using it. A kid on a cellphone! The very image of it gave me a nice, shivery feeling. 

Until it didn't. For the cellphone stayed on that dresser for years. Eventually, it became an object of derision, eliciting levels of eyeroll and groan I'd previously reserved for madras bathing shorts and Dansko clogs. But my dad didn't want to upgrade. Upgrading meant the Blackberry, and the Blackberry meant a life spent stabbing at tiny buttons.

Today, inured to the tiny buttons, he refuses to consider the iPhone -- too many distractions. But the BlackBerry has its own distractions; on long drives, its red light blinks constantly, ricocheting out of the cup-holder, grabbing at my gaze. Once, I asked him why he didn't just turn the light off. 

 "I think I don't see it unless I want to," he said.

I don't have a blinking red light, but I'm constantly aware of notifications. Often, I log out of Gmail, turn my phone off, and still I'll see flashes, hear Marimba pings. 

We talk a lot about technology as a force for good and evil and redundancy, but for many of us, the underlying question is really: what will technology do to my human-ness?

The simplest answer, I think, is, "it's up to you." A better answer is: "it's up to you, but you have to be aware of that." 

This issue explores the better answer. In "My Double-Edged Web," Alexander B. Howard examines how the modalities of his digital connections fit into a richer, and more demanding physical world. Maria Bustillos traces e-commerce's history, from its community-minded origins to a present that is mostly sterile and transactional--but also, for those who seek, interspersed with pockets of enthusiastic, one-on-one interactions. On the subject of one-on-one interactions, Benedict Evans looks at social's mobile landscape, and finds one Goliath and a heckuva lot of Davids. And, over forty years after he invented the cell phone, Marty Cooper envisions its future: an embedded device that optimizes nearly every aspect of our lives.  

We are living in a decade with a high number of unprecedenteds: surveillance, data, access to knowledge resources, access to information (both truthful and spurious), access to people (real and quasi-real and totally fake). And choice. We have--thanks in large part to technology!--choice over all the other unprecedenteds, even if finding the choices can be challenging, the choices themselves less than ideal.

To choose is to be human. Here's to its continuation, on and offline.

 

 

Comment