Technology defines culture. Anyone who has even a rudimentary knowledge of history knows this, from the ancient man defined by his chic and up-to-date Rock™ (of stone age fame), to the charming electronic licks greeting internet users of the dial-up era— we humans define ourselves by our tools. However, the modern era is showing us that this isn’t necessarily a good thing for culture’s future — our tools are starting to define us. We’re experiencing the “Roaring Twenties” all over again, except this time the world has been gilded in circuitry, algorithms, battery cells, and QLED displays. No past decade can truly compete with the pervasiveness relationship between us and our technology. We’ve seen revolutions in computing that reshape the very idea of currency, niche internet celebrities fabricated entirely by artificial intelligence, and biometrics that glean uncomfortable amounts of bodily information. Someone has to stop and ask— is this really what we want?
Who does technology exist for? One could say that technology exists to assist us, reduce inconveniences, expand our perspectives — making human expression easier. However, we’ve reached a point where technology exists for itself, not in a skynet-kills-us-all way, but in a quiet-death-of-genuine-human-experience-in-the-face-of-capitalist-power-fantasy way. I’m thinking of social media — with each new platform for hosting human thought, the design becomes increasingly complex and predatory. I’m thinking of phones — and the yearly minor updates that are far from necessary. I’m thinking of virtual reality — and the constant desire from companies to remove us from reality.
These changes are obviously driven by profits. Avoiding risk and removing the user from control over their tools of expression is an easy way to continually make a buck — and kill the human spirit in the process. Technologies that work best are just like us — they have learning curves, they take gimmicky risks, and they fail in interesting and spontaneous ways. Unfortunately, the only place to find these technologies is seemingly in decades past.
I’ve noticed a trend of looking backwards, to historic technology, and I think it’s connected to these failures of the modern day. We reminisce about the challenges of manual transmissions, the ticking of analog watches, the tactility of pens on paper and the spontaneity of grainy 35mm film for a reason. These technologies exist for human experience, and we return to them because their imperfections and complexities make for a truly interesting culture, more heartfelt and meaningful.
I would like my thoughts and ideas to matter more than the tools that I use to record them. I have a feeling that I won’t remember the crypto hype, TikTok fads, days spent scrolling and comparing gear without rhyme or reason. I will remember the one, singular shot on a roll of film that actually turned out. I’ll probably lose my countless digital documents in the vast overcomplication of the web, but I’ll never lose the hardcover journal I filled with travels, ideas, loves and losses. That’s what truly means something.
Those that peddle the benefits of a life lived on the bleeding edge of “what’s next” would tell you that stepping backwards, towards intentionality, is impossible. I’ll tell you that they’re lying— it’s in their interest to. We, as the users of technology, have a chance to define what it means in our lives, instead of letting a runaway data revolution take us for a ride. When a bright-eyed 22-year-old is ranting like a half-blind old man about days gone in an opinion piece, it’s time to get off of the train. Step away from technology boldly, live with it intentionally, and we can return to our humanity like an old friend.
Justin Vorndran is from Osceola, Wisc.
His major is English.