Friday, August 23, 2013

Inheritance


Every now and then a line or two from the play "Inherit the Wind" floats through my mind.  Being a universal work with a timeless message, I can't say I'm surprised.  Today, while stopped in front of a crosswalk, I watched a pair of Twenty somethings cross in front of me.  They were unrelated, she walking a few steps in front of him.  Both had their heads tilted downward, eyes focused on a smart phone screen.  They were obviously preoccupied but managed to walk in front of the cars stopped without looking ahead, behind or to the side in any way.
I've long thought that people in the city never look up and therefore miss much of their environment.  Now it seems many don't even look straight ahead.  This certainly is the work of the new technology. I see tis more and more all the time.  People seem to be in this world but certainly a lot less involved in it.  They manage to maneuver with their own soundtracks, their own conversations aloud, their own priorities.

"Inherit the Wind" deals with a time when radio was the new technology, yet the similarities are striking.  The prosecuting attorney, Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow) comments on this burgeoning dilemma:
Henry Drummond:
 Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there's a man who sits behind a counter and says, "All right, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and teh charm of distance...
Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline."

That we have lost and are daily losing much of our privacy is clear.  It is the other tradeoffs in the mix that often go unnoticed.  Social media is the correct term these days, but it is hardly social and not really media. 
People invent themselves repeatedly online.  In their attempts to meet people, they often encounter only the image of someone who doesn't exist. They have "friends" they have never met.  Some seemed tethered to their electronics. 
Certainly I see the benefits, but I wonder at what costs?  What will the tradeoffs be?  With all those faces looking downward, the birds may lose more of their wonder.  The clouds already smell of gasoline in some places.  In others, they quite possibly not be seen.


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