Humans are adaptable. This is one of our most defining characteristics. Not only have we adapted over thousands of years to cope with Mother Nature’s brutal indifference, but we adapt each generation to the new technologies and innovations passed on by our forbears.
But despite our ability to adapt to changes on the surface: faster communication, tastier and faster food, driving cars opposed to horses, easier access to healthcare, information, movies, pictures, more wealth etc. etc. etc. etc……some things never change. Love. Dreams. The unanswerable questions (why are we here? where did it all come from? What’s out in space? Debates on God, Free Will, and Justice.)) This explains the durability of art.
But something really really big has happened on the surface in the last twenty years, and I’m curious in what ways and to what extent it will impact our inner lives and what it means to be human.
Cell Phones: To communicate with anyone you know…instantly…whenever you feel like it. How does this affect the nature of relationships? How does this affect attachment? Letting someone go? Re-connecting with someone in your past? Expectations?
Internet: To obtain almost any information instantly…facts, statistics, short stories, articles…youtube videos on learning calculus, organic chemistry, sewing…to be entertained endlessly through more and more movies, music, comedy, interviews…websites exist that find you what you will like based on your interests.
It’s honestly overwhelming. And I think my generation is unique in that we grew up without cell phones or the internet. We were introduced to these technologies in our adolescence/high school. I can remember a world without cell phones or the internet, but I have “become an adult” with these technologies as a part of my life.
So how is the world different? Well, one thing I think the cell phone and the internet has done (and will keep doing) is create more pockets of fulfillment. This is subtle and most people don’t notice it (a negative of the internet and the cell phone is a lack of steady attention). Let me explain:
The internet and the cell phone have severely reduced transaction costs. In economics the term, transaction cost, is what you have to give up in order to make an exchange of some sort, or what you have to give up to participate in a market.
Time is a cost. In the past, your uncle may have a written you a letter saying that he has a $500 gold nugget he’d like to give you for free. (Note: nothing is free.) But if your uncle lives 4000 miles away and you have to spend three months traveling there, you may re-consider this offer. (Even if your uncle offers to pay for the travel expenses, you’re still giving up three months of your time to obtain the gold nugget.)
The cell phone and the internet have drastically reduced the time it takes to communicate and obtain information. I’ve often wondered why this hasn’t caused businesses to explode…but in a sense…it quietly has. There are more people selling, buying, and doing more, different things than anytime in the past…and it’s growing. Before you’d have to call landlines and leave messages. And you’d have to wait while you listened to these messages. Now you can reach Person A instantaneously:
“I need 25 cases of X by tomorrow 3pm.”
So what do I mean by pockets of fulfillment? Two, random observations I had while riding the ferry boat back to Staten Island tonight:
1.) My co-worker bought a vape today in order to limit her cigarette smoking. She told me about her friend who is a “vape expert,” who is aspiring to join a select group known as the “vape gods.” She told me the story of how she bought the vape today…the salesman describing the parts, the designs, the nicotine liquids, the way to use it, etc. etc. he knew so much about vapes. The internet and cell phones have allowed markets to become more and more specific…not only concerning peoples’ specific needs (more healthy, more environmentally conscious, more “hip,”) but concerning the people who meet those needs (who designed the vape? who built the mouthpiece for the vape? who marketed the vape?)
2.) I read in a NY magazine about a new comedy group composed of 4 guys with Aspergers called Asperger’s Are Us. Could groups like these form and reach someone like me (a documentary was just made about them) without the internet and the cell phone?
But the major drawback of the cell phone and the internet, though…a loss of patience, a loss of attention. And often times people aren’t conscious of this loss of patience (I’ve noticed this especially with people under 22 years old), they just want this thing now…whether it’s a job that’s fulfilling, a relationship that works, an answer to a personal problem, etc. But some things, some truths, some feelings…take time. You just have to wait.