Are you tired of technology?

Does anyone besides me get tired of these constant news stories about e-book readers, the latest apps for iPhone, Google’s relentless infringement of privacy, the battles between Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and anything to do with Craigslist, eBay, and, Lord help us, Facebook? I’m beginning to break out in hives whenever I hear the term “social networking.”

I’m hardly a Luddite, and once, long ago, even worked as a technical writer for a computer company, but this relentless cult of gadgetry and its attendant schlock sometimes gets to me. One would think that American cultural life has been reduced to watching Reality TV on one of the zillion useless channels now available through cable or to tapping out tweets — “Here I am. ... Here I am, again” — when not following the Twitter feeds of inane celebrities.

Is there a term — perhaps “Downward Facing Dog” could be borrowed from Yoga — for the cocked head of people as they walk along the sidewalk peering into their cellphones or thumb their text messages? Whatever happened to sauntering, to use Thoreau’s term? You know, just walking along and daydreaming, or mulling over a problem during a stroll until you work out an answer — solvitur ambulando, as the ancients called it — or just admiring your azaleas and chatting with your neighbors on a leisurely amble around the block. People now walk their dogs while checking their Blackberries or hooked up to earphones or talking to the ether with their Blue-Tooths (Blue-Teeth?). I thought walking your dog was supposed to be a Zen-like period of calm and reflection, good for lowering the blood pressure and restoring tranquility to the soul. No more: People are never solitary any longer.

Pascal used to say that all the trouble in the world arose because men and women couldn’t sit quietly alone in a room. These days, nobody is ever alone in a room, ever quiet. Everywhere you go the screens are illuminated, the smartphones are being smart, and people are adding to the environment’s relentless, never-ending digital clamor. Our world is a cacophony of bleatings, a carnival of expensive noise and gimcrackery.

The psychiatrist Anthony Storr once wrote a book called “Solitude: A Return to the Soul.” He stressed the benefits of quietness and solitude for ordinary people, and the creative energy it gave to artists and thinkers. Instead, we are now on the verge of that science fiction cliché — the gigantic hive mind, constantly buzzing. And what is being said in those hits and tweets? Strip away the surface chatter and it’s usually just some variant or other of “You like me, you really like me” or “Please like me more” It’s like elementary school.

Sigh. I’m being unfair, I know just now I’m weary of hearing about new technology. I know we’ve gained a lot, and there are benefits galore — among them conversational sites like this one — but right now I’m sorry that the rising generation may never have any idea of what it is to be completely out of touch with the world, or quietly alone with oneself, or possibly reading an old book, found in a real used bookshop, in that out-of-the-way corner of town.

— Michael Dirda

 
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