And so, with my devices I both connect with others and separate myself.
The glimmering screen–television, cell phone, computer (and now watch, and now corner of my eyeglasses?)–swallows me with a promise of ending my isolation. In a series of clicks that takes only seconds, interactions unscroll themselves at my bidding. I can float on them; I can plunge in with morsels (carefully chosen) from my own life. Amusement. Engagement. Empathy. Anger. Camaraderie. Enmity. Let your fingers do the walking.
In the background of the space my body inhabits, everyone and everything dims and fades out of focus. The screen never forces me to hear questions I don’t want to answer. It never asks me to resolve my inconsistencies or unravel my dilemmas. It takes my word for it, whatever “it” is.
I can project myself a mess (even if I’m fine). I can convincingly (or not, since I don’t have to answer to anyone for it) style myself a fine and together and even enhanced human being, even as chaos swirls within me. My devices can shield me, even from myself.
You know, the words “desire” and “device” spring from a related sense, as in “leave him to his own devices.” Meaning “leave him to his own means of attaining what he wants.” Is it me, or do we increasingly want the devices themselves?
This is not a lament about technology. This is not a nostalgic yearning for a simpler time when we faced one another, committed to interactions that consisted of uncomfortable silences or uncomfortable words.
My childhood was filled with devices, even before the internet and laptops and smartphones. We found our own ways not to talk, and not to notice that we weren’t talking. I took walks, argued about sports or politics, buried my eyes in books, fantasized about the future; I went to Mass; I played board games with my brothers. These devices were only less expensive than those we use now. Low tech.
No, I’m not looking for a return to some mythical golden age. I want to find a way to unravel or fulfill or even name desire without using devices, accompanied by the risks of misrecognition, pursued without an on/off switch. I want something I’m not sure how to do, something I’m not sure is possible.
I want “conversation.”
Can we talk?