The Eternal Now (How Technology Changes Your Mind, Literally)

What I mean is that technology literally changes your mind. It changes the way you think. It changes the way you see the world, the way you perceive time, shapes, logic, language, and a whole host of other things.

I can only speculate how language changed the human mind. That was too long ago. But we can very easily speak about how written language changes the our minds, as writing is a relatively new development, and pre-literate cultures still exist in odd places.

For instance, pre-literate cultures don’t develop technology. At least not particularly involved technology. They don’t develop science, they don’t develop symbolic logic. They develop as far as the strictures of human speech and oral tradition will allow, and that’s it. They can’t go any further. Or at least the benefits of going forward don’t outweigh the downsides. Or developments simply get lost in the fog of oral memory. However you want to put that.

You start thinking differently about the world once you’ve got a written language. You can finally start talking about talking (meta-language, if you will), which means you can develop ideas like structure, syntax, plot, and other ideas like them, all words adapted from other, pre-existing arenas (such a building and surveying, for instance) to fit the purpose of speaking about speaking.

You develop symbolic logic, and from there you develop a scientific world-view. You start thinking in abstractions. The desk is the shape of the rectangle. Before, there was no such thing as “rectangle”. There was no categorization in that kind of abstract way. There were only words that applied to things. There were no external references. There were simply the things.

The printing press comes along and it changes your mind again. You start thinking of the printed word as something cheap, something almost disposable. Suddenly books are everywhere, and anyone can be a scientist.

The train is invented and changes your concept of travel. Suddenly you can go from one side of the country to the other without taking out years of your life to get there. For a while, the train is the fastest way to get people from here to there, but also information. This is dangerous, as the trains go faster than information can travel. Vehicle collisions become a very real and frightening thing.

The telegraph is invented and changes everything. You start thinking of messages as ephemeral, as passing quickly through the void.

The telephone is invented. Distance seems to melt away. Everyone, everywhere is accessible.

Video is invented. Everywhere a camera can go is here, right now.

The internet is invented. Cellphones are invented. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google. Everything, everywhere is now. Everything is electronic. The idea of waiting for something is an anachronism.

And you don’t see it. You’re swimming in a sea of all this change and of course you don’t notice the water.

But it’s there. The internet has changed your expectations, changed your perception about the nature of things.

We are entering the eternal now.

There will be no past, soon. It’s all there. The chronicles of your and everyone else’s life available, like everything else, instantaneously. Film, music, writing, journalism, participation, anything that can be reduced to bits will be reduced to bits and will be available at your fingertips now. Now.

And so there will be no future. The idea of waiting for something, instead of being an integral part of the human experience, will be a problem. If you are waiting for something, it’s because something somewhere is broken. Like when a website doesn’t load: You don’t sit back and say “well, that’s just a part of life!”. You think, “something is broken”. This will extend from the internet to every part of life. Waiting will be engrained on your mind as a function of something being broken. Waiting is something needs to be fixed.

I’m not a digital native, not really. I grew up in a world where the fax machine was the pinnacle of human information transfer technology.

Even still, using a fax machine is an unbearable experience now. It’s frustrating. Listening to a machine negotiating with another machine and being able to see a piece of paper being sucked into the machine is annoying.

My friends who don’t participate in social media don’t seem real to me. They seem ephemeral, like ghosts. Having to wait until we’re face-to-face to interact? That’s frustrating. I want to talk to them now. I want to communicate in the now.

My mind, that tricky organ that keeps getting overwritten by innovation, doesn’t understand the idea that they will be around in the future. That’s not a time, that’s not a place. They are not participating in the eternal now, and my brain is telling me that they don’t exist. That they’re not there. And in a brain wired to find sadness in people not being there, I feel sad. They aren’t in the eternal now. They aren’t there. It’s a source of unconscious, unexplainable sadness.

So here’s the question: How has technology changed your mind? How do you react to the world now that you’re online 24/7? Look at the sea you swim in for a moment and ask, “How is it changing me?”

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