Monday, October 18, 2010

Frontline: Digital Nation

Frontline: Digital Nation is a program/documentary on PBS that evaluates the evolution of our technology in this 'Digital Age', mainly focused on the Internet and whether or not it is another step towards progress or a hindrance to us. The documentary begins with the concern of multi-tasking and whether or not it is more effective, but even those who claimed to be 'effective' multi-taskers proved to be hardly efficient. A person performs a task most optimally if focused, without several distractions at once. But in this age, with digital natives rising into the later generations, attention spans are running shorter. Students in schools that allow the use of laptops may be more engaged in lecture if they are met on the same digital plane, but distractions still have to be monitored. People become bored and move on to some other task that's just a click away, like checking for messages on Facebook or playing games. Still, some schools have steered towards using this technology to teach, even if through gaming itself as was demonstrated later in this program, believing that the age of page-turning is coming to an end. Meanwhile the virtual reality Internet is able to provide, such as interactive environment and MMORPGs, is investigated. The matter of whether people are interacting in a detached environment to escape loneliness or being genuinely united with many others is brought to question. In the case of gaming online, it has becoming a public health concern in countries like South Korea, where technology first took its grand hold. This addiction, if one can see it as such, is a likely consequence of these appealing alternate realities. The use of our digital prowess in our military pursuits has been increasing to minimize casualties of war and even to recruit potentials.

When I saw this documentary, I felt mixed in my opinions. Whereas I was capable of understanding the consequences of the Internet and our digital evolution, even able to relate to them, I can also see how this evolution can bring about progress in the way writing and transportation have. Sometimes I feel that I am addicted to technology, since I spend hours on end using my computer or playing video games. I don't use the phone much, but my interest hasn't really been much in the real world, but the many possible worlds one can experience digitally. Oddly enough, I never got into MMORPGs, but I do go on forums where roleplaying takes place in alternate realities. Instead of there being a digital space to navigate, created by some programmer and from his imagination, one can type about the place their characters are in and elaborate in any way they choose. It's like making a big, collaborative novel that no one else is likely to read so it promotes a sense of freedom to what you write. I use technology for escape more often than I use it for communication. I don't send e-mails, I infrequently update Facebook and I don't have Twitter or any of that sort of service, and people yell at me all the time for never getting on AIM or MSN. I'm not sure if I'm a common, uncommon, or rare case. So as much as I think technology is going to be a great big part of our future, I can't help but have my quirks against it.

What seemed to concern me most, or what really stuck, was the marriage of technology and war. What will warefare be like a century from now? The technology isn't just going to stay in one place forever. Whether it happens through leaks of information or take over, all these new advances will eventually be carried on to every corner of the world. How will we fight our battles if our armies never have to leave their countries or stand on battlefronts? And what is it going to do to the psychology of war? I can only imagine the bombs would just have to be carried to the cities themselves. It won't be long until civilian casualties cannot be avoided often enough. If anything intimidates me the most about digital technology, it's the harm it can do when put in the hands of people who kill for a living. But this sort of thing is inevitable. As long as people are being defensive or fighting for a cause, for revenge, or all those other colorful sorts of reasons people get into it, they're going to want to have advantages over their adversaries. Technology often provides that advantage, due to its nature of constantly evolving and its capability of being improved upon.

Even if I tried not to use the computer as often as I do, I'd still need to use it. My family would have a coronary if I didn't get on Skype every Friday to talk to them for an hour or so. It's just too easy to get the images I need for reference online, or to stay updated on events on campus through e-mail, or make blogs for my Fine Arts Thesis class. When I get out of school and get a job, I'm going to need to be well acquainted with this technology anyways.

But it gets in the way when I use it for leisure. I stop working on art and get distracted because it's so easy to do. It provides instant gratification, helps me to forget a lonely life, and it gives me something to do when I'm bored that doesn't require my complete, unadulterated attention.

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