Anti-progress Attitudes

You have doubtlessly already seen this drawn meme-comic already, but I will repost it for the sake of the argument. While crudely drawn (or rather crudely assembled from copy and pasted bits) it gives us an interesting commentary on the way technology has changed our lives in the last decade or so.

A common sentiment these days

Did you find yourself nodding in agreement to this? Did you find the comic a tad depressing? And if you did, why?

I think we can all agree that the premise here is flawed. Yes, it is kinda funny to juxtapose the joyful faces on the left with the same serious, semi-bored stick figure on the right. But, that look isn’t really boredom, is it? It’s concentration. The fact is that our lives are much, much richer, and more interesting now than they ever were all thanks to technology. And yet, I know a lot of people who would take this comic literally and agree that instead our technology impoverishes our lives, and steals the joy away somehow.

Let’s take music as an example. 15 years ago your main source of music was your local record store. When I was a kid, a lot of my friends were big metal-heads but unfortunately that genre was not very popular. Getting new records was always a quest – you had to take a bus or two to some god forsaken, shady neighborhood, step over several homeless people, shoo away the junkies trying to get some money from you, find the shady underground record store (most of them were literally under ground – located in basements and etc), and then tell the intimidating, tattooed gentleman that you would like him to do a special order. And then you would wait 3-6 weeks and repeat the whole thing again.

Ok, I’m exaggerating it a little bit but let’s face it – the amount of music you have on your phone right now probably dwarfs your cassette tape collection from 15-16 years ago, both in size and quality. And it cost you less money since you were probably able to buy most of these songs for $.99 a piece, or rip them from the CD’s you own, and you did not have to spend a single penny on blank media to create mixes you like.

I won’t even mention the breadth of your collection – you probably have songs in your collection by small, indie bands that you would never even heard about in the 90’s unless they were local. How is listening to music from deteriorating cassette tapes on a big clunky sound system better than carrying a rich, varied and personalized music collection in your pocket? It isn’t.

Movies? 15 years ago, if I wanted to watch a movie, I had to walk to the local video store. In the snow and up the hill both ways. Half the time they didn’t even have the movie I wanted. And of course they would invariably charge me a penalty fee because I did not rewind the tape before returning it. Just for comparison, few days ago my brother told me that I need to check out the Game of Thrones on HBO. Few minutes later I was watching the pilot episode on my phone. Horrible, eh?

Communication? Few weeks ago my mom called me on Skype from Poland and since I wasn’t home I picked it up on my phone. We had an international video-call, while I was in the passenger seat of a car, driving on the highway. And it was absolutely free. 15 years ago something like this was pretty much science fiction.

Making music? 15 years ago, the only way to get your music out there was to secure patronage of some pretentious record industry magnate. These days all you need is internet connection. You don’t actually need to sign away your soul to RIAA in order to produce your one hit wonder. In fact, you don’t even need to be that talented to become internationally famous – just look at the Chocolate Rain guy or Rebecca Black.

Technology has made our lives incomparably better, and claiming that it is somehow the opposite is silly. If you think it is bad that kids “sit around on the computer all day” then it is probably because you are getting old. They are not just staring at a box all this time. They are learning, socializing, creating and in general living richer, and more interesting lives that you did at their age. They are probably better informed, and have more refined tastes when it comes the their entertainment that you ever will.

What this cartoon really depicts is the technological convergence. 15 years ago, we had dozens of tools to help us accomplish our daily tasks and pursue our hobbies. Nowadays we have one – an internet enabled computer, be it a desktop, a laptop, a tablet or a smart phone – it’s all the same really. That tool will become smaller, and more portable as the time goes by. Eventually the boundary where you end and your tool begins will be blurred. Our network enabled processing unit and electronic storage will become a integral part of our anatomy. And then we will finally cease to be merely human, and become something more.

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8 Responses to Anti-progress Attitudes

  1. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    I just love how you insert your childhood stories from Poland. :D Always completely exaggerated and always fun to read :)

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  2. Steve CANADA Internet Explorer Windows Terminalist says:

    I love technology, but I also noted that you could end one thing you wrote with “…by myself”. For instance:

    Few minutes later I was watching the pilot episode on my phone.

    …. by myself.


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  3. Victoria Netscape Navigator Mac OS says:

    I’ve heard several comments of ‘grass was greener’ type. They all strive to emphasize that people value something more if it was harder to get. That we valued our dingy cassette collections and discs more because of the amount of effort that went into obtaining them. And that they gave us more joy because of that. While I might understand the sentimental value, it all ended and started anew for me with electronic books. When I was a child, it was so hard to get good books in Ukraine. I had to go to the library, make friends with the strict lady librarian (which actually means ‘get her a box of chocolate’ or something alike) and hope that she would notify me of the good new stuff. In late 90s the situation was better but far from perfect – now you could buy books but they were poorly translated and mostly mainstream. When I went online in ’98, the world changed. Now it wasn’t just books: music, TV shows, comics (that still are not available here), anime… Whatever good stuff I find, I tell my friends about it. We still go to see a movie as a small crowd, sometimes 10-15 people. So I don’t feel alone, stranded at my computer desk :)

    Progress is awesome. Now if only they would do something great with transportation :)

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Liudvikas:

    Me exaggerate? Never! :P

    @ Steve:

    While true, this is not necessarily a rule. Watching movies or TV shows is something that you can do by yourself or socially with or without the help of modern technology. If I wanted to catch up on Game of Thrones using old fashioned technology I would have to wait for the DVD set, and then at that point I would still probably watch it by myself since everyone else already did.

    Conversely technology can also be used to make a solitary activity more social. In the days of Farscape the Scaper message board I used to hang at used to have live chat running during new episodes. So I was able to watch it with few dozen other people from all over.

    @ Victoria:

    Interestingly enough, I am still a big fan of old fashioned dead-tree books. Why? Because of comfort. I can read a paper book anywhere – in the tub, on the toilet, on the beach, while eating greasy food. A kindle (or any other ebook reader for that matter) is still an electronic device, and I tend to be overly protective of these and shield them from water, sand and/or greasy palms. :P

    Plus, like you said – when I buy a paper book I feel like I own it. I can put it on a shelf and be like “check out my books over here”. When I download an e-book – not so much. So given a choice between a paperback and a kindle download I will usually spend the extra few bucks, and wait few days to get the physical object rather than the download.

    That said, I do own some e-books a lot of which would have been difficult or expensive to obtain in hard copy. So I don’t think e-books cheapen the experience. I think they complement it quite nicely.

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  5. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Luke Maciak:
    Talking of kindle, I would buy it in an instant if I would get a free ebook with the purchase of paper book. Ebook is convenient, but I still prefer to own something and not just a few bits on amazon server saying I do.

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  6. StDoodle UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Listening to music: Used to be something fairly rare for me, as it usually bugged someone or another. Part of the change is that I don’t have lots of other people close by who will be forced to listen to the same thing I do, but I honesly wouldn’t bother if I had to manage my collection during work; thankfully, services like Pandora are about 90% as good as what I’d put together myself, for about 1% of the effort. I call that a win.

    Watching a movie: I rarely do that on a computer. But then, I don’t watch lots of movies, either.

    Contacting people: Meh. I prefer to meet in person when I want a real conversation. Though my workplace’s backwards-ass, look-up-every-phone-number-every-damn-time policy, resulting from no-one else knowing how to save contacts in Outlook coupled with “shared contacts” being disabled… ugh. Never mind, that’s another story altogether.

    Reading the news: It’s nice getting news in bits-and-pieces when I have a few free minutes, rather than having to plan around catching it / buying a paper / etc.

    Making music: I have no musical talent whatsoever, so I can’t speak to this one.

    Masturbating: Having a wider selection of material is nice, but it also means re-formatting Windows on a regular basis. I mean, nah, I don’t do that. ;)

    Overall, the biggest difference is that things like checking news and listening to music can now be interspersed into my daily routine (ie “work”) instead of requiring me to set aside special time just for whatever. Which is generally a good thing.

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  7. Sameer NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’m an information junkie and always have been. If I see, read, hear something I need to know every detail. When I was younger I would walk around the library for hours and I would always read magazines at the local stands. In that respect I absolutely *love* the way we have information at our fingertips albeit not necessarily from reliable sources. Downside is we do sit at our desks all day. That’s not really a problem now, but we might be in trouble once the machines rise.

    I agree wholeheartedly with this article and I say bring on transhumanism Charles Stross-style!

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  8. Ron NEW ZEALAND Mozilla Linux says:

    Im sort on the fence in alot of ways, tv/movies I largly watch on my laptop (well the externel monitor), for a couple of reasons 1) NZ tv is often so far behind (not so bad now). 2) I can get away without a tv, which means I can get away with cheaper smaller room for flatting, 3) I perfer watching alone, for lack of interruptions

    Music and books, I prefer physical media (Vinyl). Most of my background music is from my FLAC collection, but listining for enjoyment Vinyl gives me a lot of non-tangible joy (same with books).

    I wouldnt mind a kindle (or similar) for reading academic papers and traveling (but I would be pissed having to re-buy books), would be nice for some self-published stuff I like.

    For news thou, I largly use my android phone (google reader, app could be better thou) and use the “star” feature for things I want to reply on, if they responce is likely to be long-ish (this for example)

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