Monday, May 25, 2009

Live in the Present, Or Else

While most people just party like it's 1999, I tend to still live that way. Compared to my contemporaries I'm a technological dinosaur. The laptop on which I wrote this post and the digital camera with which I gather photos to release into the public domain are, effectively, my only handholds in the 21st century. I don't have an mp3 player. I don't own a cellphone. I certainly don't think that my life is more hollow now than it would be if that wasn't the case.

I'm not a luddite. I don't begrudge the existence or ubiquity of cell phones; I only see no reason and have no desire to have one for myself. I like being unreachable when I leave the apartment. I enjoy solitude when I go out walkin', solitude that's never interrupted by some jangling ringtone. If I'm in unfamiliar terrain, that's what the map book in my backpack pocket's for. My camera eats enough batteries as it is.

I've made a choice to live without that, to live outside that web of instantaneous communication and text messaging and Facebook-on-the-go. What concerns me is that inevitably, inexorably, unless something's done about it, things like owning a cell phone will cease to become a personal choice and will instead be the result of social compulsion - that you have a cell phone because you must.

This is already going on at the University of Missouri. According to an article by Beverly G. Rivera in the Columbia Missourian, starting with the upcoming school year, students in its journalism program will be required to purchase an iPhone or iPod touch. Why? Apparently, it's so that they can be repurposed into learning enhancers. "Lectures are the worst possible learning format," UM associate dean Brian Brooks was quoted as saying in the Missourian.

That's funny, because in my university experience, lectures were always the best part of the course. I always loathed having to truck my ass out of the dorm or the apartment for some for-the-birds seminar. But then, considering I'm already unusual for not owning a cell phone, I'll jot that down as me being some kind of strange outlier.

The article goes on to elaborate that "the requirement will not be enforced" and students will not be penalized if they don't buy an iPhone or iPod touch. Nevertheless, I can only imagine that this is the first step on a long, downward path. Sooner or later requirements like this will be practically enforced, and people who refuse to go along with them will be punished. How long before being able to be contacted 24/7, regardless of location, ceases to be something that's merely encouraged, however strongly, and becomes an actual condition of employment as necessary as references on your resumé? How many years will pass before these devices, or something like them, become so ubiquitous that not having them will in itself be worthy of suspicion?

Why exercise choice when you can just be swept up by the wave, and left fighting to keep your head above water?

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