Claremore Daily Progress

January 24, 2011

Have I seen this before? Technology creating eerily familiar world

Zack Stoycoff
Staff Writer

CLAREMORE — I deleted my Facebook account last week. Then I put my computer in the closet.

Don’t worry — I can plug it back in, reactivate my account and not lose any of my hundreds of friends and likes.

But will I?

A funny thing happened that day. I read “Germania” by Tacitus, an ancient Roman historian who documented the culture of early Germans. And I’m not even in school anymore.

All those hours on my City of Wonder, for which I worked so hard to reach level 20, seemed even more meaningless than before. And I thought to myself: The great thinkers of old, from Hobbes to Rousseau, weren’t necessarily reading what their friends just found on the bottom of their feet.

But they were reading.

I’m not here to tell you that today’s kids, and many adults, are creativity-starved and less curious than generations gone. You already know that. I’m here to go a step further: Have you ever seen “WALL-E” or “Surrogates”?

Don’t mind me. I’m just the latest bearded nut holding up the cardboard sign. And as long as we’re being half-jokingly honest, we can say the end-of-the-world predictions of technology-weary authors and screenwriters are happening now, here, in Claremore, in Oklahoma, in America.

You at least know kids can’t make basic conversation without staring at some kind of screen or listening to headphones. And you know people can’t go an hour without looking at their phones. You see it in places as diverse as Walmart and baseball games on TV.

Granted, I have never lived a day when personal computers didn’t exist. But when I was little, my friends and I still rode bikes over dirt mounds and played in the park. No one had a cell phone until they were driving.

A few digital advancements later, we’re hopelessly controlled by our machines. Just try to live three days without your favorite gadget and tell me that you’re the one really controlling it. It’s like digital nicotine.

Even Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, recently lamented his company’s role in the defeat of traditional social interaction, with millions constantly staring at iPhones and iPads.

And here’s the real tragedy of it. This is where authors like George Orwell (“1984”) and Aldus Huxley (“A Brave New World”) got the future right. I’m talking about the demise of creativity, and the rise of stagnation and apathy.

Americans used to be creative. Everyone used to be musicians, artists, writers and thinkers. Remember that? We used to take our creative ideas to the workplace, making our county the world’s leading innovator. We’re outsourcing that role because we have to.

Now we’re consumers, not producers, scouring the Internet for funny videos, playing games and reading profiles.

Instead of contributing to our quality of life, we’re demanding spoon-fed entertainment.

Once the baby boomers unaccustomed to this new lifestyle, and to some extent, their children, die off, we’ll have a world run largely by people who can’t think for themselves, don’t have innovative solutions for the world’s problems and, worse, are easily influenced by exciting politicians with good speeches.

And I’m speaking as part of the younger generation addicted to the stuff.

The next generation looks no better. Did you read the Santa letters sent to the Progress by kindergartners and first-graders before Christmas? They wanted cell phones and computers because that’s how everyone around them spends their time.

Judging by the children playing with phones at restaurants, I’m guessing some got their wish. And we have no idea how that will affect their social development, outside of what futuristic movies have envisioned.

Just when did we become the very picture of a technology-hijacked future?

There’s a scene in “Surrogates” where Bruce Willis, fresh out of his remote-controlled artificial body, walks down a busy New York street with thousands of artificial bodies still controlled remotely by people sitting in chairs at home.

And for the first time in years, he smells the air. He feels the grass. He watches the sun. No one else sees it. They’re not even there. They’re busy living their artificial lives.

I stepped outside and put my hand against a tree last weekend, one of those rare nice days in January. I looked around my neighborhood.

No one was there.

Won’t someone join me?

Do you agree with me? Disagree? Write me at zstoycoff@claremoreprogress.com with your name and city, and let me know if you’d like your letter printed in our newspaper.