Thomm Quackenbush, author

In his age of exponentially increased connectivity, where one need do little more than key in a dozen letters to chat with someone from New Guinea or Uzbekistan, few actually connect. It is our modern irony and a notably pathetic one at that.

One reason is machines called iPods. They were originally the approximate size of a pack of playing cards. Now, a few years after their creation, they are smaller than a few dozen business cards and far more ubiquitous. No one really knows how much smaller they will get in size or how much bigger in memory. Each iPod contains more music than you have ever heard, literally thousands of songs as music files called MP3s. Many people in America wear their headphones nearly always, floating through work, school, and life with their private soundtrack. It helps some to believe that they are leading exciting and noteworthy lives, since this is what a swell of music means in the theater and operant conditioning confuses us terribly. The music frees them from the burden of genuine human interaction. Necessary exchanges occur superficially and nonverbally so as to not interrupt the yammering in their headphones. Months can go by on autopilot, tuned in and turned off.

Cell phones are another issue. The idea is a simple one, essentially glorified walkie-talkies. Cell phones function as regular phones do in your time, save that most everyone has one in their pocket. Far from enriching the interaction, layering new levels on the moment, it allows people to ignore the present situation with all its uncertainty for a mindless chat with a friend ignoring their own world. Together, some new and sterile universe is built together, one divorced from actual context and content. You have a cell phone -- who doesn't, really? -- and you've been guilty of escapism a few times, hiding in a bathroom during a rough first day at work so you could vent to someone who was only yours for a few seconds. You are not a professional escape artist, however, one of the quasi-cyborgs with glowing wireless earpieces who always seem capable and willing to disappear into their own head, forsaking the rest of the world. Some do not even need to push a button, just chant a name like a medieval summoner conjuring forth a demon. If instantaneous voice communication wasn't detrimental enough, cell phones can also sent short, illiterate text messages, play game, take pictures, and show whole movies. How can the world before us compete with tiny screens so willing to amuse?

Worst, perhaps, is the internet itself. There is a cliché that we are more incline to know people thousands of miles away than to know our neighbors. You can't claim exception. Your neighbors are the Loud Drunks and Owners of Zeus. There are more neighbors who you could not identify by sight, since looking them in the eyes would mean they are real to you and thus care for their well being. Conversely, you have deep conversations with strangers on the internet, people who find you through interest-driven websites. You consider them single use friends, a disposable commodity no matter how nice they may pretend to be. You don't want them to be real and go out of your way to make them nothing but words on a screen. It is purer that way, but it fails to be remotely genuine. It degrades the merest concept of human interaction. This is to say nothing of on-line role-playing games, which have been well covered already.

You are not above this depersonalization, but writers rarely are. You pen this on your handheld touch screen computer (which has a built in MP3 player), ignoring your surroundings. You will post it to your website for an audience that will remain silent, though you know they read by the momentary fluctuations in the daily traffic. It is sharing with no intimacy.

None of these things needs to be quite so deleterious. These as tools and wonderful ones at that. The internet has revolutionized the world, which is now formed with cables as its spine.

As they were never forced into dealing with uncomfortable social situations, a generation is entering the real world who are socially stunted. Heroes in their own heads -- not the least because the have a private soundtrack -- they are nothing to anyone else, least of all to the other solipsists who feel they too are alone on the stage. Empathy dwindles as we fall to ironic detachment.


Xen is sending the text of these essays back in time to his prepubescent self using advanced technology and fairy dust. That you can manage to read them as well is only a glitch in the servers.
Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.


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