“I’m bored” is the new code phrase for “I’d like an electronic device” it seems from my 5-year-old. Even the short car ride home from school seems to elicit the “I’m bored” whine. Like my mother before me, I offer a list of suggestions depending on the circumstances (read a book, look out the window, clear your room, play with your toys, etc…) but none of those things are a good enough replacement for the stimulation provided by a screen. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like any of the options my mother presented me with when I was my daughter’s age either, but my mother didn’t have a cell phone or tablet to offer.
I look around in public spaces and suddenly I can’t blame her. Instead of drifting into imaginations, reading books, or even people watching (a personal favorite of this former mallrat) I see everyone staring at a device. I see the metaverse already taking hold and no one really understands how to act without it. My husband and myself are not innocent in this either but can we stop the metaverse from consuming our lives?
And can we take the time to thoughtfully craft what the world can and should look like when we have become the commodity to be bought and sold? When the mining of our data has become just as valuable as our hard earned cash? When we can, and do, spend real money on virtual goods?
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate technology and the things it’s been capable of doing. Things that we didn’t think were possible, especially during this pandemic. There is a global connection that generations before have never been able to experience. These kids can, and do, listen to music from across the globe and history. They have friends in different countries that they’ve connected and communicate with using social media or video games that those of us before never would have thought possible. Their worlds are incredibly expansive but also sometimes incredibly small being confined to a screen.
In the words of Dr. Ian Malcom “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” (Jurassic Park, 1993).
All around I see humans, old and young, thirsting for connection to themselves and each other but only some of that connection can be fulfilled in the digital realm. We have seen and learned through this pandemic that virtual can only do so much especially when that virtual comes in the form of doom scrolling through social media or being sucked into the comparison trap.
Some of our connection must come from in person, real-time experiences where we can hear each other’s tone of voice and read the body language. Some of our connections need to be with nature where we can hear the wind rustle through the trees, we can hear the birds or insects, breathe deeply of the fresh air not the recycled and sanitized heat or AC that maintains a balmy 72 degrees year-round regardless of the outside conditions.
Technology has granted us a lot of awesome capabilities, but we stand here with a choice. We can move ahead blindly following the path that’s being laid out for us by tech companies or we can take a breath a forge a new future where the glory of technology works in tandem with the “good old days”. Where we can effectively divide our time between the 2D screen and the 3D real world.
I am revaluating the limits I set on my phone usage (for me personally that’s the main culprit of my disassociation with the real world) and making sure that the technological devices in my life maintain themselves as positive tools without sliding into the destructive. I have started to recognize when my screen time no longer becomes the escape it needed to be but turns into the numbing it shouldn’t be. Once I reach the numbing phase of consumption it’s no longer the pleasant respite but the mechanism that makes me feel worse than when I started.
Make no mistake, the metaverse is most likely coming. To a certain extent it’s already here but we have a say in how we interact with it. We can have the power to craft it for good and not just for the profit of the tech giants.
This is the time to take a stand against the robber barons of the 21st century. Take the time to decide how you are going to thoughtfully engage with technology while also not checking out from the real world. Integrating both of them as we move forward into the ”new normal” is paramount to building the society we need.