Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Personal Technology and the War against Reality

It has been over two years since I last wrote about the significant role that "personal technologies" play in what can only be called our deliberate efforts to deny reality. The occasion at that time was a growing movement among state legislatures to make Driving White Texting (DWT) a moving-violation traffic offense. Unfortunately, what at that time The Wall Street Journal had tried to represent as a growing trend for the public good has made it into ratified law in only seven states and the District of Columbia, at least according to a CNET report by Lance Whitney. After two years of effort, that does not make for much of a movement, particularly in the face of a survey by Vingo, also reported by Whitney, in which 26 percent of drivers admit to DWT (that, of course, just being the ones willing to fess up about it). The Vingo survey also provided an interesting demographic breakdown:

Almost 60 percent of people ages 16 to 19 and 49 percent of those in their 20s admit to texting while driving. Among people in their 50s, 13 percent said they have texted behind the wheel.

In other words, when we take age into account, DWT is a "once and future" trend.

I have to say that I like the DWT nomenclature. It bears just the right family resemblance to DUI, driving under the influence of alcohol. It thus commits to a sociological stance that views texting as an addictive behavior, meaning that, like other addictive behaviors, it is primarily a mechanism for blocking out reality, just as our portable music technologies have created a new state of being, which I once called "iPod oblivion." In the past I have tried to address this situation by thinking about paths to rehabilitation, basically trying to take the same approach that has been taken to more "classical" addictions; but what will happen if we evolve into a culture of addiction in which the very idea of rehabilitation may no longer be part of our cultural context? Will there be any room in that context for a sense of reality; or will this just be the way in which, as T. S. Eliot had predicted, the world will end with a whimper?

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