I don’t often watch or listen to TED Talks, but when I happen across one while endlessly scrolling online or listening to NPR – like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” – they always seem to emerge at the perfect time in my life. And I love novelist Abha Dawesar’s “Life in the ‘Digital Now,'” not only because she’s brilliant and speaks to so much about our digital lives that I’ve been trying to grasp, but her talk came into my life at the exact moment I needed it.
I’m currently taking an entertainment business class at USC about digital technology and the entertainment industry. For the most part I thoroughly enjoy the course, but I wasn’t prepared for all of the focus on futurism and our likely destinies as tech-obsessed individuals and societies. Taking this class has made me realize that talk of a hyper-technological reality is personally anxiety inducing. And visions of a world filled with AR, VR, and AI are absolutely terrifying. I may be typing this blog post using WordPress on my laptop, and I have tons of tabs open for Gmail, The New York Times, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Outlook (seriously, I have that many tabs open), but I’d still describe myself as somewhat tech-averse. Technology absolutely shapes my daily life and is something I feel grateful to have access to in its many forms, but thinking about wearing Google Glass and living in an augmented reality, or paying for something with my thumbprint, is almost so scary for me that I have to avoid thinking about those things.
So what’s the issue? I should just avoid these “future of tech” questions altogether, right? Well at least for the next few months that’s completely out of the question, because this business class features a futurist or technologist giving a talk in nearly every lecture. And what they’re predicting and describing in each and every class is like a waking-nightmare for me.
After one particularly stressful class, I turned on NPR on my drive home and TED Radio Hour was on. The talks where tech related, and Adam Ostrow’s speech was already underway. As the editor in chief of Mashable, Ostrow’s an expert on social media, the web, and the potentials of our digital future. His talk, titled “After Your Final Status Update,” focuses on how social media has transformed our relationship to those who’ve died. Oddly enough, the night before I watched “Be Right Back,” a Black Mirror episode in which Domhnall Gleeson’s character is killed in a car accident and essentially brought back to “digital life” by a tech company. Because he had shared so much of himself online (his image, voice, stories of his past, etc.) the company was able to piece a new version of him together. I was terrified by the idea and glad that although it seemed at least somewhat realistic (we do share so much of ourselves online) I couldn’t imagine anything like that actually being within reach.
(You may be wondering why someone who’s afraid of technological-futurism is doing watching Black Mirror, but I’m drawn to things that scare me and it’s a damn good show!)
Fast-forward to Ostrow’s talk, and he’s explaining that a sort of digital posthumous life – like the one I watched unfold on Black Mirror – is possible in the future. And that’s obviously not the kind of thing a person who’s anxious about that stuff wants to hear.
So I’m driving home and freaking out and Abha Dawesar’s talk comes on after Ostrow’s. In her speech she describes the distinction between biological time and digital time, and our need as humans to put down our phones and tune out tech distractions sometimes. Her talk gave me hope, and also put into perspective my own need to step away from my devices sometimes and just live, breath, be human, and live fully in the moment. And because our day-to-day reality is so tech-driven, it seems that we all need a reminder sometimes that we exist in a biological world, not a digital one.
Watch Dawesar’s TED Talk and share it with your friends and family. I think it’s something we all need to hear.