Computer Love: Technophilia in the Real World

Digital Culture

Throughout the centuries there have been a certain percentage of the population which find all things mechanical irresistable, (or so I've absorbed over the years). These tinkerers have generally been well-off, as only the very rich could afford anything more than the most essential machines such as wheels and plows. Even such ubiquitous tools such as pens and paper were very hard to come across until quite recently. Now, in an incredibly short amount of time even complex electronic machines have become ubiquitous, and the amount of technologically-obsessive people has grown. One reason for this is that our civilization has shifted away from one in which the overwhelming number of people are involved in agrarian pursuits. Another is that our standard of living has increased dramatically, along with our average level of education. A sub-culture has grown with these people, evolving almost as quickly as the machines they idolize.

Most recently a culture has evolved based entirely around users and enthusiasts of computers. This digital cutlure is marked by many features both physical and psychological, and has recently been the subject of much scrutiny as the computers it has long championed become more and more mainstream. The problem with studying such a culture, of course, is that one always ends up overgeneralizing, so let me apologize in advance if some of the sweeping statements I'm about to make don't apply to you.

Jeff Pack, in his piece Growing up Digerate sums up an experience that eerily mirrors my own, and I suspect many of yours out there, too. (Yes, I am going to now throw off all shreds of objectivity that might remain, and identify myself as very much a part of this digital culture. Run away in horror if it suits you.) Growing up we might have been labeled "geeks" or "nerds," but now it looks like nerds are going to rule the Earth. Psychologists would like to tell us that the reason we like computers so much is that we have a hard time forming relationships with people, while computers are much less threatening. Of course, we all know that's complete bullshit - we like computers because they're cool! To the true digerati using a computer is as natural as eating, breathing, or relieving themselves. (Okay, maybe not that natural!) It is preciesely because of this naturalness that we have such a hard time justifying our love of computers to the un-technical, and why we become so defensive when it is suggested that we might have a problem. To us it's just incomprehensible that anyone wouldn't automatically just see how great computers are.

    The digerati are, when all is said and done, an obsessive bunch. We ache to get everything right, to become intimately familiar with every piece of software that comes out, and above all else, we ache to prove this competencey to our peers. Competition is essential, and merit and standing are based on a complex and quickly shifting set of standards. Once, for instance, I was sitting in a computer lab with a friend next to me. My friend saw me go to a menu and select save. "Why did you do that?"  he sneered. "Why didn't you just hit Control-S?" By not adhereing to the acceptable standard of proficiency with the software I'd demonstrated a weakness, however small, and like a lion on the Serengetti my friend had pounced, seeing an opening to decrease my status while simultaneously raising his own.

I'll be frank: I find this practice to be complete crap. The digerati follow this code like it's Bushido, and adhere to it relentlessly, seeking any advantage, any new cool trick to show our friends. This intense competition of one-up-manship can often be the first step that drives a user into evolving to that higher lifeform, that all-powerful creator-god, the programmer. Unfortunately, programmers in my experience take this competition even more seriously, as if a bunch of professional wrestlers suddenly found themselves possesing powerful destructive magic. It is my belief that this intense competition is a major part of the reason digital culture has not become more mainstream, for it discourages adding new members who are not highly motivated to teach themselves, frowning on them as incompetants.

Unfortunately, I don't see any of this changing in the foreseeable future. Please, prove me wrong.

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