Further Migration to the Digital Frontier

There’s no turning back. As we turn our calendars toward 2016, I looked back at a 1936 Walter Benjamin essay where he observes, “the adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope, as much for thinking as for perception.” Consider the recent widespread accessibility of smartphones. Phones have placed affordable, high quality cameras in nearly everyone’s pocket and established a new reality by which segments of the world population contribute photographs to global discussion for the first time.

This new digital landscape is reshaping culture, and it can be difficult to identify which direction we’re shifting as new technology rises so rapidly. A recent G.E. Hardy study for the Institute of Work Psychology suggests that regular people are often displaying physiological signs of mental fatigue. This level of stress is typically reserved for EMTs, doctors, or air traffic controllers.

We study our private screens as we walk together down public streets and forfeit the spontaneity of a chance interaction. We overshare on social media; a result of being fed an endless stream of information with continuous feedback. If I am anticipating a new email, I often feel like I’ll miss it if I don’t check my inbox every few minutes. A decade ago we would have reached out personally to someone in order to share the thought.

I remember the sound of my dial-up modem connecting to Prodigy, which provided early adopters a group of bulletin boards for general topic discussions. I would spend days or weeks responding, because it took minutes to even connect to the internet.

Now, however, we are constantly connected. Immediate responses do not allow us freedom from an endless stream of updates requiring attention. It’s impossible to keep up and to be “on” all the time. How do we stop this never-ending flow of demands from our devices?

As we enter the new year, I hope to find an answer. In 2016, I plan to be more available when necessary, and to remember that connecting to a network is a choice. Some posts and responses require more thought and attention than I was willing to offer last year. I plan to focus intently on those who matter most to me in life, and to spend more time being present with them.