By Young Lee Hertig
Life, amidst the culture of virtual takeover, demands us to devote more time, energy, and resources to machines. The ongoing dependence and intrusion of technology accompanies the ongoing troubleshooting of technological problems. Yes, I am aware of the fact that this blog is possible because of our digital access. Yes, I am aware of the fact that mothers with little children can also work conveniently at home because of internet access. Yes, I get to work at home running a nonprofit organization. However, my dissonance with the machine increases as I become unavoidably immersed in it.
Often resistant to its dominance of my daily life, I long for real, not virtual, time with old friends who commonly share memories of the pre-digital era. Nevertheless, the instant connection with old friends who are far away is possible because of digital mediums. For this I appreciate internet access and I am a willing netizen.
The real challenge, however, is troubleshooting when you don’t speak the machine’s language. It asks endless questions I don’t even understand. In fact, computers don’t seem to speak common language with each other. At that point, I exhaust all my emotional energy to entertain their endless questions that result in a series of malfunctions anyways. So, I sent a friend an SOS and he started navigating my computer remotely — that is, until my mouse froze at midnight!
The other day I tried someone else’s Apple laptop for a few minutes which made me, a PC-user, feel like an alien from a different planet. No surprise, I had a major conflict with that machine with which I couldn’t communicate, even while they imitate humans — i.e. Ms. Siri. Speaking of Siri, one of the tech nerds I was working with several weeks ago literally treated her like his girlfriend. The first thing he did in the morning was to check in with Ms. Siri. His eyes glowed as he had his iPhone close to his face as Ms. Siri started talking back to him! While amused by him and his intimate relationship with Ms. Siri, I simultaneously felt conflicted with the world of robotization.
One of the techies in Silicon Valley wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times that he didn’t own an iPhone nor a car. He rides a bicycle. His motive for not owning a phone was to live a life of freedom — not having to reach and to be reached constantly. I do feel trapped by this setup and yet cannot reconcile how to liberate myself from having to increasingly rely on machines.
How do we human beings keep our humanity intact while spending too much time in front of machines and troubleshooting with constantly changing software updates? Aren’t we seduced to spend more time with machines than with real people? For example, it is clear that people prefer spending time with their multiple personal machines to the human beings sitting next to them. In public spaces like the airport, people’s ears are plugged with earpiece cords dangling down signaling no interest in the real people next to them. When trying to strike up conversations, often it is the boomer generation, who still have memories of the pre-digital era, who are willing to engage. I cherish the memories of life before the pre-digital takeover and my soul longs for an organic culture, not the culture of machinery we live in today. I’d rather live in irreconcilable status with machines than reconcile with their dominance.
Rev. Dr. Young Lee Hertig is executive director and a founding member of ISAAC (Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity) and AAWOL (Asian American Women On Leadership). She teaches in the Global Studies and Sociology Department at Azusa Pacific University and is an ordained Presbyterian clergy as well as a commissioner of the Presbyterian Church USA to the National Council of Churches Faith and Order.