So, the Apple iWatch was unveiled recently and there’s bound to be a rush. Millions of people are already lining up, at least metaphorically, to lay down what they have earned for a device they can carry on their wrists to tell them what the temperature is outside. Though countless numbers want one, I have begun to wonder if the ongoing flood of technical gadgets is separating us from life’s deepest pleasures.
I’m no Luddite. The benefits of technology, including digital technology, are real. I am a faithful Apple customer. I use my iPad daily. I am writing this on iMac. Apple products are dependable, easy to use, and beautiful.
Still, the increase in this sort of technology has become counterproductive. The flood of increasingly magical gizmos comes during a time of pervasive alienation, of disconnection. With a tap of the wrist now we can send a message to anyone in the world, yet our hearts remain empty.
Our hearts are empty in part because the addictive wonders of our technology have distracted us from much of what is best about life. In spite of all the power and amusement it bestows on users, this technology really can make our lives less enjoyable. Restricting its use is ultimately a hedonist’s move.
The deepest pleasures of human life all contain elements of connection, context and comfort that virtual technology cannot offer. No matter how amazing the graphics, how responsive the interface, the pleasure digital technology affords lacks the components necessary for deep and lasting pleasure.
We hear often that technology is connecting the world. In many ways this is true. Before Facebook, I hadn’t spoken to some of my high school classmates in two decades. Now I hear from them daily.
But, our most pleasurable connections cannot happen in virtual space. Lasting, deep pleasure requires bodies present to one another in real time. This is most obvious in sex, but it’s true as well for conversation, for sports, for worship.
In pursuing the pleasures of embodied connection, we learn to accept others though they differ from us. We come to love what we cannot alter, customize, or otherwise improve. In virtual spaces, we can almost always tailor our experience to our preferences. Yet, in reality, to experience connection we must accept, not mute or avoid, unpleasant realities and limits, both our own and others.
Life’s pleasures are intensified when we experience them under the right circumstances with the right people and to the right degree. In other words, context matters. Every human act occurs within the flow of history and this conveys meaning to the things we do. Our actions have consequences. Knowing we have made right choices and experiencing the rewards of those choices is its own kind of pleasure. In relationships, context allows us to experience the joys of place and of walking through circumstances together. Without context, we would miss the pleasures of anniversaries, of membership, of forgiveness.
These pleasures are largely absent from the online world. As users, we are the beginning and end of our experience. No need to be swept along by the flow of history here. The context of any action is merely the never-ending stream of data to which we contribute or withdraw at will.
Ultimately, digital fantasies offer us little comfort against the pains of the world. Even our imaginations tell us this. When we conjure mental images of comfort, I doubt anyone thinks of an environment decorated with the Apple aesthetic: hard, reflective surfaces gleaming in synthetic, unnatural perfection. Instead, we look for comfort to those objects designed more closely to mimic the natural world. We look to objects that speak to us as embodied creatures.
But more importantly, we imagine ourselves involved in something other than the consumption of online content. The numbers of people who, when they imagine themselves ensconced in a scene of comfort, imagine themselves at a desk staring into a mass of glowing pixels are few. The vast majority of us imagine a glowing fire, good and abundant food, a snoring dog. This is because comfort is a condition of the body, a part of us that online experiences, no matter how intense, simply cannot reach. Our bodies prefer fire, food and dogs to computers. They just do.
Maybe I don’t need to tell you I won’t be buying an iWatch. Whether you do is your business. But, I don’t want to risk its coming between me and the things I enjoy most. I’m going to instead keep my wrists free from anything that, though sleek and beautiful and eager to make promises, might become a handcuff.
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