Where has the mystique of being human gone?

August 7, 2010

I remember as a boy, my dad got a car key locater for Christmas one year. It was quite the fad that year. Lose your keys? No problem. Just push a button and they'd instantly put off a high pitched beep telling you of their whereabouts.

Pretty neat. My sisters and I would lose his keys just so we could use it. It was quite the novelty. Until we lost the button. Then we were in a mad scramble to find them before he discovered we'd lost both.

I remember the joys of growing up in the high desert of New Mexico. My parents bought 3 acres 30 miles outside Albuquerque when I was eleven. With our closest neighbors scattered 1/4 mile away or more, we had hundreds of acres to roam about.

The desert was ours.

I remember the unbridled joy of disappearing for a whole morning, or afternoon, or oftentimes even the entire day. (One of the many benefits of being home schooled.)

Bike rides. Treks to the creek. BB gun sharpshooting contests. Bow and arrow hunting. Horseback riding. About a mile from our house was an abandoned box car some old hippies used to live in. We explored that thing, creaky doors and all, from top to bottom.

One summer, we got one of those huge rubber band water balloon launchers and camped out behind a 6 foot tall levee on our parents' land, and bombarded passing cars on the small dirt road. All five of them that day.

There were rattlesnake dodgings (even a dissection - for science class!), tarantulas, coyotes, and one spring, fresh mountain lion tracks in our muddy driveway. (He would later maul a half-dozen or so of our neighbor's geese.)

Through all the memorable adventures there is one thing that stands out the most.

We were not my dad's keys.

My mom could not push a button and locate us. No one could.

Sure, she knew we were around. And sure she probably wondered what we were up to. But we weren't trackable.

In fact, most of the time, we had no desire to be.

Where has that spirit gone?

Anonymous.

Disconnected.

Lost in your own thoughts.

Experiencing life for yourself.

I want that again.

Recapturing that freedom is largely why I quit Facebook* in 2009 and Twitter this week.

It's why I chose to disable comments in the Candor Club. I want to get lost in my thoughts again. I want people who read my thoughts to slow down, and get lost in their own thoughts - as they process what I have to say. Not feel pressured to engage or comment or leave feedback.

You see, most of us think technology and the Internet and fancy mobile devices are making us more human.

I am slowly becoming convinced that is not the case.

Leading research seems to support this hunch.

According to an experiment at UCLA, all the multi-tasking required to leave status updates, tweet, text, Foursquare, Gowalla, twitpic, twitvid and more actually atrophies the section of our brain responsible for reasoning, logic, and memory.

Interestingly, however, the multi-tasking bolsters the area of our brain required to do repetitive tasks, thereby increasing efficiency and productivity of rote tasks.

In other words, all this technology is making us more machine-like.

Machines have to be checked up on. Monitored. Maintained. Serviced.

Machines must keep up the pace or they will be replaced with newer, better machines.

I think somewhere, deep down inside us, we are somehow aware of this. We feel the fear of being outdone or outpaced or outperformed or out-produced. And it's this fear, guised in being human and connected, that drives us to crank out so much social media activity.

Status updates, Twitter, texts, Foursquare and Gowalla checkins, Dribble, Flickr.

If not machines, they are, at the very least, turning millions of people into a set of car keys, allowing others to track you, with the simple push of a button.

Maybe you're OK with that. Maybe you can't phathom your life without all the pushing and beeping.

It sure would be nice if you could.

...most of us think technology and the Internet and fancy mobile devices are making us more human.

* Well, that and I think Zuckerberg is a complete, untrustworthy tool, whom I wouldn't trust to pick up my trash, let alone steward the private details of my life.