The only thing I don’t believe in Microsoft’s video of the future is how calm everybody is around such omnipresent tech.
For as long as there’s been technology, it seems, there’s been this vision of a technology utopia — of gadgets not only fitting into our day-to-day lives, but also disappearing into them, so that a person surrounded by beautiful gadgets is as carefree as a person surrounded by beautiful trees.
Watching the Microsoft video, I saw this fantasy, and I had to wonder: Why lie?
When I was in first grade, there were these two fourth graders — Brendan and Kyle — who were brothers, twins, and, to me, the picture of a carefree life. I worried about my Spelling homework and whether Michael believed Danielle when she told him I liked him (which I did). But the way Brendan and Kyle carried the crate of milks from the first-floor cooler back up to their classroom for lunch, I knew they didn’t worry about things. When I got to fourth grade, I thought, I’d stop worrying, too.
I didn’t. I stressed about buying the right coat and whether I’d heard all the cool music. But the way Brendan and Kyle slung their backpacks over their shoulders and laughed with the girls made me think, Eighth grade. That’s when it happens. That’s when I’ll be able to laugh silly problems away.
And so on and so forth until years and years later, when I realized how silly I’d been, to look at my future and think I wouldn’t be a part of it.
One of the passages that’s stayed with me from “Fight Club” takes on the safety card in the seat pocket in front of you on the airplane. Until I read it, I hadn’t realized that the calm, cool faces bracing for impact in the illustrations were laughably unrealistic.
The people in the Microsoft video, like the people in nearly all videos selling us on upcoming technologies, are laughably unrealistic. They don’t look plugged in. They look sedated. Those sure finger flicks over a screen. The slow, warm smiles. The video reflects who we want to be more than who we are — the relationship we want with technology rather than the relationship we have.
We’ll never be as carefree around our beautiful gadgets as we are around beautiful trees. Not because trees are good and gadgets are bad, but because trees don’t care, and gadgets challenge us to live up to our commitments — call this person, get to this appointment, make this decision, get this done. When they’re not toys, communications gadgets are an extension of our own responsibilities. Responsibilities don’t make us comfortable. They make us better.
From first grade to eighth grade and so on, my life got more, not less, complicated. And I dreamed of taking it easy even as I pushed myself to do things that were harder. Because as it turns out, a lot of the best things in life are a struggle.
Forget the technology fantasy. I think we can handle the truth.