In the past few weeks, we, the public, have been told that the personal computer and all its iterations are dead – we just don’t know it yet. A bright new era looms on the horizon – the era of the tablet computer. At this juncture in the grand scheme of things that is, to say the least, a matter of minor import. Technology prognosticators have accuracy rates in the same range as weathermen and psychic advisors. Overall, it doesn’t really seem to matter – except for one minor detail.
In the hue and cry over the advent of the “tablet PC,” I kept hearing one phrase repeated over and over in reviews and media outlets, and it is that phrase that keeps echoing back to me in the wake of the foretelling of the PC’s demise, sending shivers down my virtual spine. The tablet, pundits and reviewers declared over and over, is a media consumption device.
A media consumption device.
The modern world, and America in particular has been chastised in recent years for being addicted to consumption. We are born and raised to be consumers, and, to some degree, I think consumption can be argued as a part of our nature. But we are not only consumers; we are also creators. From the dawn of time, humans have felt a need to communicate, to share their experience and leave a record of their thoughts, their feelings, their passions, and their dreams. We long for connection, the sense that someone else understands us; we feel intuitively that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, and we ache to be assured that our small grasp of what it means to live will pass on and will not be extinguished with our own deaths.
If anything, the information age has only amplified that need to create. And, interestingly , the advent of the internet has broken down the barriers of status and acceptance that historically limited creation. As the great equalizer, the internet accepts creation with a voracious appetite, offering equal opportunities to be heard and seen to all comers. It has, in some measure, completed the cycle of creation and consumption. A million users create; a million users consume. We form new ecosystems, create new trends, throw words into a digital void having faith that someone “out there” will hear that virtual voice, see our creation, and be drawn to it by a link of commonality. Like our stone age ancestors, we create to commune; we just do it in zeros and ones rather than stone and soil.
But now we are being told that the age of creation is falling out of favor. No one, it seems, wants to do that anymore. We are instead being moved toward consumption devices. Keyboards for interactions longer than 140 characters are unneeded. Creation is out of vogue; consumption is in. Everything we need is controlled by a finger swipe or a click. The information age is overloaded as it is, why add to the noise? Why put forth the effort to learn the skills required for creation? The pendulum is swinging back again.
When I hear the pundit’s prophecy of a tablet for every table and a smartphone in the spot where a computer used to be, I am unsettled. I am not ready for the return to a world where content is provided only by the powerful, the wealthy, and the popular. I do not believe that the madcap democratization of media is ready to be extinct; the exotic safari of strangely bred content that is the internet is still an adventure; it still contains wonders waiting to be found. I am not ready to relinquish my keyboard, my mouse, and my virtual voice.
Perhaps the confidence in consumption is correct. Perhaps fueled by the social networking frenzy, the ability to have visible lists of friends purportedly hanging on status updates and waiting with bated breath for Farmville gifts is enough connection for society. But to me it seems disturbingly hollow. It is, to bastardize one of my favorite terms, automononarcissistic. The connections so generated are spurious at the least; they are based on casual acquaintance or past memory. Certainly, they have value, but they are not capable of generating the connection nurtured by the shared cycle of individual creation and consumption. Certainly, creation will occur, but the shading offered by the creations of a media giant is far different than the discovery of a lone voice singing a familiar, beautiful song.
If the pundits are right, I fear that I will feel out of place in that brave new world in which the stream of information flows downward rather than outward and connections are limited by the size of our virtual keyboards. Perhaps that new limitation will push us back into creation in physical space and human creativity will triumph again. Perhaps we will simply be content to consume videos and produced media, abandoning the realm of the written word to the “experts” and restoring the balance of creative control to a system with greater gatekeepers. I don’t pretend to know what tomorrow holds, but I do know that I will cling to my keyboard and to the voice it gives me, typing into the void in the cause of creation and the undying hope that perhaps that voice will echo back again.