What does it mean to live in a digital culture? As I write this I am sitting in a coffee shop looking at the surrounding people all alone, drinking their coffee, typing away at their computers, just as I am doing. We are all disconnected from the world around us, lost in whatever this magical screen has to offer. If I stare at it long enough I almost feel like I would get sucked into the portal of digital space the computer’s open jaw has created… if only this damned glass wasn’t in the way. And this is our world now. It wasn’t always this way. I remember the days where computers were more of a novelty, but now they are everywhere. They are our companions and our best friends. I probably spend more time with my computer then any one person in my life.
Two people just sat down across from me. They have grey hair and a carefree appearance. They look like they’re from Boulder when Boulder wasn’t the yuppie village it has turned into today. They make a comment on the state of the coffee shop. They question what socialization will look like in a few years from now. Are we losing our abilities to socialize? I find myself socializing with my computer right now. Microsoft Word and I are having a wonderful conversation. I feel like I can communicate better with some sort of inanimate technology that allows me to write my thoughts and express my feelings with no judgment. Right now as I write I know that I can say whatever I want and if I decide I want to share what I have written with other humans I can edit, delete, and control my stream of thought. The magic of Word is that I can easily do this and no one will ever know what was once written in this space. The digital world seems safe. Like you can express your deepest darkest secrets and no one will ever know.
I now find myself distracted by the fact these people across from me are having a conversation. The man speaking has a soft spoken voice yet it seems deafening in the midst of computer typing and coffee pouring. I begin to wonder why they can’t just join the masses in the quiet solemn of laptop central.
So here I am, contemplating the relationship I share with my computer, this coffee shop, and the people around me, wondering what it means to live in the world we do today. I question where the lines blur. Where it is that forms a distinction between my fingers on the keyboard of my computer and the computer itself. Am I part of the computer? Are we separate entities? Or does the connection of my hands to its soft surface somehow define a connection that unifies me to computer.
And what about the content? Am I separate from what I read, explore, experience within this space? The computer offers a chance to look into a portal of a world based on 1s and 0s that somehow form images, words, and interactions. It doesn’t seem much different than the world out there, except I can manipulate, distort, control, and contain it. It’s actually very different than the world out there, but again the lines between digital and physical reality seem blurred.
I don’t believe we are separate from our digital selves. I believe they are an extension of us that we’ve manipulated and controlled to be the greatest avatar we could imagine would represent who we are to the world. And the world sees us. I have around 900 Facebook friends. I get to know these friends by their posts. Most of them I haven’t had a physical conversation with in years. Some of them I’ve only met once. But I know them. I know them by the things they say and the pictures they post. I know where they’ve been, who they’ve loved, what they do for a living. I can say “Oh, yeah! So and So is married now and with kids but they just traveled to Europe for some time. It looks like they’re really enjoying life and having a good time.” But I haven’t talked to this person in ages. I don’t even know if they remember who I am. But I act like I know them. Although maybe they borrowed the kid. They found pictures on google of some European landmarks and photoshopped their image in. Maybe they photoshopped their partner in too. You really don’t know, but you think you know, and in your mind that is So and So.
Our digital culture has infiltrated our physical reality and sometimes it is hard to find the line where our physical state begins and the digital world ends. Social media, professional networks, online streaming services, online news channels, all of the worlds that we experience within this digital box, all of these platforms define our reality. And so I question, in this day and age, in the midst of what one could describe as digital culture, where do we begin and where do we end?