The modern world – and modernity writ large – has, like every other age, its virtues and its vices. Information technology is one of the truly modern wonders. That we have a veritable Library of Alexandria at our disposal is incredible, and unmatched to any prior revolution in the development of cultures we have seen before. Something like three decades into the Information Revolution, a feeling of nostalgia is pervading society. It is not merely relegated to the generation that looks at the past with rose-colored glasses, either. The younger generation feels a kind of nostalgia, and I am one of them.
In short, I sometimes wish I lived in a time before my cell-phone existed. I have the internet and all of the music I could ever ask for at my fingertips. I can call whoever I want around the world, or even send them a direct message if calling is too arduous. However, I find myself shackled to this 5×3½ tablet of metal and crystal. So many hours of my days are spent mindlessly scrolling through it, hypnotized by the snapshot-narrative and flashy colors of indiscreet visions. iPhones even have a feature now to track your “screen time” spent on your phone and your laptop – ostensibly to make users more conscious about their digital consumption, but just feels more like my phone is shaming me for giving it the attention it demands. Research has been done on the effects of digital consumption and blue-light on the brain; these effects are often negative.
An argument of this type was carried out by myself and one of my friends recently. He posited that this technology was like the chainsaw – it is capable of making beautiful things as well as being quite useful to loggers, but it is also capable of being incredibly harmful. I understand that position, but chainsaws are not designed to get the user addicted to using it. That, unfortunately, is something that cell-phones are designed to do. Algorithms track what you enjoy most and look at most on your phone, and send you more and more of it as you go.
You are probably saying to yourself, “these complaints are more against social media than cell-phones.” Perhaps you are right, but these cell phones certainly help facilitate the unhealthy use of social media. How many of us have felt a pang of fear that we may have lost our phone? That anxiety runs deep, and all over this simple object. There is nothing else in our life that has that level of importance or anxiety induced at it’s absence.
If I had to live in an earlier time, it would not be so far back. I would want some of the privileges and eases of the modern world, but without the social media and cell phone Zeitgeist. Maybe the ‘90’s, maybe the ‘80’s. You could call someone, listen to music and watch movies, just all in different places with their own rituals associated with them. Perhaps, at the end of the day, our nostalgia springs not from a place of what we want that could only be found in that time, but the opportunity to escape the specific things we find wrong in our time.