Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's not because I'm a Luddite


 It's interesting how people automatically assume that if you don't want to take part in some new type of technology, it's because you don't like  "change." Or that you are afraid to learn new things. Or that you're making some sort of political statement by not participating with the masses - a sort of  Luddite.

What if it's none of those reasons? What if it's more sentimental than all that? Maybe it's a deeply personal reason - something that pains you to the point of recoil. Like touching fire.

E.M. Forster prophetically explains, in his 1909 short story "The Machine Stops,"  why communicating through technology makes him sad - I couldn't have said it better myself. Here is a short excerpt from the story. The last paragraph hits me the hardest.
 
From E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" (1909)

The son Kuno is calling his mother Vashti via technology that projects images onto plates so they can see each other while they talk.

"Very well. Let us talk, I will isolate myself. I do not expect anything important will happen for the next five minutes-for I can give you fully five minutes, Kuno.

She touched the isolation knob, so that no one else could speak to her. Then she touched the lighting apparatus, and the little room was plunged into darkness.

"Be quick!" She called, her irritation returning. "Be quick, Kuno; here I am in the dark wasting my time."

But it was fully fifteen seconds before the round plate that she held in her hands began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it, darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her.

"What is it, dearest boy? Be quick. Why could you not send it by pneumatic post?"

"Because I prefer saying such a thing. I want----"

"Well?"

"I want you to come and see me."

Vashti watched his face in the blue plate.

"But I can see you!" she exclaimed. "What more do you want?"

"I want to see you not through the Machine," said Kuno. "I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine."

"Oh, hush!" said his mother, vaguely shocked. "You mustn't say anything against the Machine."

"Why not?"

"One mustn't."

"You talk as if a god had made the Machine," cried the other.

"I believe that you pray to it when you are unhappy. Men made it, do not forget that. Great men, but men. The Machine is much, but it is not everything.

I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you. That is why I want you to come. Pay me a visit, so that we can meet face to face, and talk about the hopes that are in my mind."

Based on personal experience, I feel the same way - I see something like you, but it's not you.

The last time I saw my dear mother-in-law, before the cancer won, was on Skype. It was Mother's Day and we wanted to say hi and tell her we loved her.

The volume wouldn't work -technical trouble. We could see each other but we couldn't hear her. We kept yelling, "Can you hear us?" She nodded yes but we still couldn't hear her. After several minutes of frustration and anger at the technology for not providing the service it promised, we got off the computer and called on the phone.

By this point, she was exhausted. Barely had the energy to talk on the phone. Conversation was light. Jason talked to her - I didn't get a chance.

I never saw her with her eyes open again. I never heard her voice again.

I remember that Skype session so vividly. Not in a good way. In a sad, desperate longing way. Her face was so confused and frustrated. A face on a screen with no words. Like a prison visit. No way to comfort her.

I wish I could erase this artificial image and replace it with the  last time I saw her in person. A version of her that was real.

It was many years ago, at her house. On a warm sunny July afternoon. All her family was there with her celebrating - a family reunion of sorts. She was vibrant and maintained that signature omnipotent gaze she always wore on her face. I could feel the love and happiness radiating from her. I wanted to be closer to her even if no words were exchanged. Her energy was radiant. She was smiling - tan with golden hair shining in the sun. Flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt. The real deal. That's the way I choose to remember her, but unfortunately I have this failed attempt at technology projecting unwanted images in my dreams. Artificial images that competes with real-life experience.

And that's why I don't Skype. It's not because I'm a  Luddite. It's because I promised myself that I wouldn't allow this to happen again. It's just too painful and the feeling sticks around forever.

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