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Doesn’t it Feel Good To Touch? : Why are we so afraid of Digital Media?

Introducing the new Apple iPerson Complete with multi-touch and volume control / Doesn’t it feel good to touch / Doesn’t it feel good to touch / Doesn’t it feel good to…touch? / My world is so digital / I’ve forgotten what that feels like.”

The above words, from a poem entitled “Touchscreen” (see below) are delivered in chilling whispers by the awesome poet Marshall Soulful Jones. Stirring up satire, robotic body gestures, and an abundance of technological puns, he ignites an unavoidable self-reflective journey into the role of technology. What are we losing in a world where we “..face Facebook more than books face [us] hoping to book face to faces…”? However, not only should we ask that question, but I want to take the step a bit further—why do we care about “whatever” it is we may be losing?

Stay with me.

Over the past week or so, I’ve encountered a few instances that made me raise an eyebrow at some of the interpersonal implications of social media during our time. If you will permit, I want to offer you a few baby anecdotes:

During a session on Domestic Violence that I was facilitating for a high school as a part of a student organization I am involved in on campus, I asked the students to take out a pen and perform a writing exercise. Upon finding out that they would have 2 minutes to complete the exercise, they requested to do the work on their iPods instead, asserting that they type faster on their iPods, and furthermore, one boy mentioned—“I can’t really read my own writing half the time anyway.”

The other day I was having (what I felt) was a very riveting conversation with one of my friends, about an hour into the conversation, she noticed that her laptop battery had died. At the next lull in the conversation, she began packing up, saying “whelp…my laptop battery is dead. Time to go.”

I couldn’t find another close friend of mine on Facebook, I texted her to ask if she deleted her page. She responded, “I’m staying off Facebook for a month as a part of this social experiment on campus to see how it affects our lives.”

And lastly, a status I saw on my Facebook feed the other day: “I’m giving up Facebook for Lent.”

Now, of course I could launch into a Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451-esque critique about what social media is doing to our society, that it’s debilitating organic social interaction, diminishing our introspective capabilities, eroding our imagination, and all that (overplayed) jazz. But I feel that these sorts of criticisms languish in our natural propensities to be suspicious of change (and that’s fine). Yet, I also feel that we tend to put too much blame on technology. Can we really say that Facebook is stopping us from having meaningful interaction, when we live in a country where asking “how are you doing” is so ubiquitous that it’s become more of a formality than an inquiry? And it is certainly not the case that we were this fanciful wonderful world of conviviality and love before Facebook came out. (I mean, even Disney movies have villains.) So I’m not willing to scapegoat digital media for our failures to achieve meaningful connections with people, if anything, it’s just exposing them.

But of course, I’m not letting it off the hook either. As the extroverted avid-reader that I am, I appreciate the serenity that comes with actually turning the pages of a book, and not just skimming over a cold screen. I also prefer a good dinner with friends rather than a skype convo (but really, who doesn’t?), and as a future educator—I do wonder what it means that students are growing up in an age where it doesn’t matter that they can’t read their handwriting.

We’re in the midst of an important paradigm shift in our society, and it’s too soon to “yay or nay” it. But whatare we losing in a digital society? And why is that even important? With the written word came the loss of memory, but we still seem to have come-a-long well enough. Digital media is calling for inquiry into what we value in our society, what do we find important, what should we be keeping? It’s easy to say that we have lost something—the work is to figure out what’s gone. We might find, and I’d argue, that we we’re losing—may never have been there in the first place.

Watch the poem. It’s Tony the Tiger great.