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article imageOp-Ed: The tragic painlessness of the digital age, part 1

By Noam Sugarman     Dec 21, 2008 in Technology
Human beings have always striven for painlessness and instant-gratification. Technology is making these goals strikingly attainable, which is dangerously leading us down a path to cultural irrelevance and despair.
People love the internet. I am not being hyperbolic; many of us are genuinely infatuated with the world wide web. Just read Dave Silverberg's only slightly satirical love letter to and personification of a popular website to get a sense of the typical obsessiveness almost every wired individual has for at least some corner of the great digital expanse. And while I don't presume to suggest that there might be something immoral about this uniquely postmodern form of affection, please allow me to lament the degradation of our emotional experience that inevitably accompanies this peculiar phenomenon.
Perhaps the most noticeable of our disappearing (or at least diminishing) emotions is nostalgia. The primary vehicle of this disappearance would have to be the ease of virtually limitless interaction via online avenues like Facebook, that megalomaniacal monopoly of digital communication that is so easily detestable, but at the same time so irresistibly convenient; the Wal Mart of the digital world. And while I have so far managed to elude the grasp of the aforementioned retail giant, I fear that Facebook has got me in its clutches, with its hooks penetrating deep enough under the surface of my skin that I cannot reasonably hope to escape. But I've come to terms with it; for while there is no indication that I am better off as a citizen of this monolithic digital nation, it can safely be said that my life is more convenient.
And yet, I cannot help but yearn for the days when even the most tangential of reminders of some happier time would fling my heart into a melancholic craving for a return to those precious moments, perhaps even driving me to quixotically try and recreate them. So what are sites like Facebook and Youtube doing to our precious nostalgia? It is quite simple really; what they are doing is making the past too accessible. For example, I once spent three months of my life far away from home, living in a communal setting with strangers from around the world. During that time, those strangers became some of the dearest friends I ever had. Leaving them was devastating, and for a few years after my departure, I longed, sometimes painfully, for my companions and the great times we had. But all of this started to change when I joined Facebook, and I discovered that I can be instantly and always in contact with these people. While this was initially incredibly exciting, I eventually realized that because I could speak to them so easily, I no longer missed them very much anymore, and now the memories almost seem farther away and less significant because of it.
Youtube operates in much the same way, albeit on a more cultural than interpersonal level. If not for this amazing forum, all of those obscure television shows (and themes), music videos, performances, film strips, sports moments, and whatever else would be but half-successful memories that would nonetheless invoke a powerful emotional response whenever they would randomly pop up. Many of us have television shows that we adored as children that we once sadly thought we'd never see again, and that we have long since found on Youtube, grown tired of, and now no longer look back upon with fondness the way we once did. As the digital age progresses and technology becomes more and more sophisticated, our stock of precious memories will continue to deplete, until our past will be but a succession of insignificant and indiscriminate footnotes.
How is all this affecting our culture, and what does it mean for the future? Part 2 to be published tomorrow.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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