Cell phones. Tablets. Laptops. The list is ever-growing and ever-changing. All these devices are designed to makes our lives easier. To streamline our work. To give us more time. The trouble is they don’t.
Remember the books and articles that predicted computers that would be so efficient, they would liberate us from the shackles of an eight-hour work day? Give us a completely paperless society? They would enable us to accomplish more in less time, leaving us free to pursue leisure activities like never before. Computers were going to set us free.
So what happened? The computers materialized as predicted. They enabled us to accomplish our tasks faster. They streamlined our work. So where is the abundant free time?
- Instead of using our “extra’ time to pursue enjoyable activities and hobbies, we use it to get even more work done. The theory is if we can do a job in half the time, then we can accomplish twice as much as before.
- Doing our work more efficiently means, to most corporations, that fewer employees are required to do the same amount of work. So we all now do our own jobs and the jobs of the employees who have been downsized/rightsized/out-the-door-sized.
- The devices themselves are an insidious time drain, alluring in their designs, attractive in their promises of time-saving and entertainment. We are enchanted and then mesmerized. They hold a thrall over us that we cannot break. We compulsively check them. We pour more information into them. We get caught up in the web (slight pun intended) of communication and information. We don’t own them. They own us.
- The upkeep and maintenance of the devices is no small chore, either. Add it to the list of another damn thing to do.
The plus side is that we do communicate like never before. News spreads quickly. Response time is lightning fast. Organization and mobilization can happen like never before. (Remember SOPA?)
Unfortunately, we have to communicate quickly. No more complete sentences. No more fully spelled words. Who has the time to either write them or read them?
Anyone out there remember the good old days? Basketballs and bicycles, “Tag, you’re it!” and “Race you to the corner!” The noise of a neighborhood football game in the backyard. The sound of feet pounding through the house. Moms and Dads everywhere screaming, “Go outside and play!”
Homes and yards today are very different. The exuberant voices have quieted, the running feet have slowed. The games have become virtual, friends meeting in cyberspace instead of in person. And the sounds of the virtual world and the real world are sometimes hard to distinguish.
Picture this: a mom sitting in her office writing a new chapter for her book, one ear cocked, as always, for the sounds of children, pets, husband, and other miscellaneous visitors. She hears the plaintive cry of a cat. Repeatedly. Upon investigation, she discovers that it is merely a virtual pet, crying out to be fed/played with/brushed or whatever else the computer program demands. She returns to her creating. In another room, her husband is attempting to speak in a computer-simulated monotone. “Yes.” “Service.” “No.” “Service.” “YES.” “SERVICE.” Is he crazy? No, he is merely trying to get a voice-recognition phone system to connect him with the service department.
A baby cries. A baby? We don’t have a baby. Are the cries coming from inside the house or through the open window? No, Mom, it’s just a virtual baby. Mom wonders if young mothers ever ignore their babies cries because they think it is merely the older children playing with virtual babies instead of their living siblings. Mom settles back to continue her sci-fi novel. She is deep into the description of a space battle that seems so real to her she can actually hear the sounds of space ships. Wait. Why are the sounds coming from the living room? Of course. A group of kids, computers in hand, have flown into space to defend Earth from an alien invasion. Mom returns to her writing. She can’t help wondering if a real alien invasion occurred, would anyone notice?
And then the creepiest sounds of all. Subtle sounds that take a few moments to break through the writing fog. Shuffling footsteps. Distant moans. Mom looks at her watch. Is it time for dinner already? Are her poor, hungry children dragging themselves down the hall demanding nourishment?
Nope. It is the apocalypse. The virtual zombie apocalypse, that is. The undead are dragging themselves across computer screens not down the hallway. Mom returns to her work, hoping that the day the real zombies show up, she will be able to tell the difference.