Shreya Vatsa is a first-year International student at UBCO, and she is pursuing her studies remotely from India. She is a South Asian-Indian woman, born and raised in India, and as part of the GenZ, she wanted to engage with a public audience and reflect upon how technology is shaping the lives of GenZ and students like herself who wouldn't be able to pursue remote learning amidst this pandemic if it weren't for technological achievements and advancements.
“I wanted to question and challenge our pursuits and objectives for utilizing tech to transition into our drastically virtual identities this year. I wanted to address the global news and politics advertised on-screen that shapes the lives of many with access to technology, and to address the negative potential of using technology to spread hate, prejudice, and lies worldwide. I wanted to reflect on the large-scale impact of putting our thoughts online, unverified, vulnerable, and stored in the cloud.”
You are home, sipping on a cup of coffee that burns your tongue as you subconsciously sit down for yet another Netflix binge-a thon. You’re ready to live vicariously through the fictitious characters on-screen by watching a familiar sitcom or a new standup routine. Whether you switch to Black Mirror to see your life reflected onto a tethered screen or isolate yourself into a personal void, you know that time is running out and that you seem to be showing symptoms of withdrawal as soon as you turn it off. Although, you still don’t know if it’s the coffee or the inseparable screen that aggravates your anxiety. You procrastinate a little more and realize that this is it. This is your life: irrevocably tethered to and commanded by the screen. This obsession with an augmented version of reality and you burrowing into a cocoon of solipsism—that is it. You wait for your work and daily chores to be over to go back to your cocoon. To be right back and reclaim your natural, technological itch.
This is the dilemma of ‘Generation Z.’ With the technological advancement that humans continue to achieve, we seem to be rushing to the path of obsolescence rather than creativity. Even though technology has reformed science, medicine, quantum computing, and more, we have become obsessed with its use for social media. We have latched onto the idea of augmented reality instead of acknowledging the existence and livelihood of ourselves. Imagine how far one has to veer from the goal of saving the actual world to saving your virtual identity. Maybe it’s this delusion of our virtual selves that seems to make people addicted as it makes them believe the hate, conspiracies, and lies that spread faster than truth and non-artificial tweets. Maybe, it’s other people in this machine that seem to judge your life in the blink of an eye, based on your screen-selves. And then you decide (or rather you react). Do you mould yourself into becoming an android version of you? Or do you confront the crude and insatiably capitalist business model that manipulates you, that grips you by its talons and claims to serve you while demanding your gaze incessantly—that defines your needs for you?
“The typewriting machine, when played with expression, is no more annoying than the piano when played by a sister or near relation”
- OSCAR WILDE, IRISH DRAMATIST
I’m not reflecting or preaching profusely; I only demand you to self-reflect. The lack of fact-checkers online doesn’t help determine our reality either. The mere fact that supremacists and conspiracy theorists can make a theory go viral faster than a pandemic, without any evidence, shows how vulnerable, exposed, and even ignorant our democracy is. It portrays a sense of irresponsibility and personal gain that governs these platforms. Our narcissistic obsession with using technology for self-service doesn’t break the myth of this screen, either. At this rate of mindless consumption, we may just wait to procreate online after all that we’ve accomplished through working, learning, and living in this virtual scape. If only our physical selves could morph into the cloud—but I’m sure we’d want to escape that too.
This year, especially for young voters, the creeks in our democracy have been exposed like never before. Never before have we felt so completely and worldly aware and yet divided as we approach our means to resolve the increasing global challenges. While technology has made the world feel smaller or more close-knit, we use it to ‘speak our minds’ and to influence people in our circuit and vicinity dangerously. We know very well how opinions carried out in this realm can shape one’s mindset. With the freedom of speech turning into the freedom of reach and unverified opinions, I wonder if monetary profit and donation are reason enough to justify and allow technology to shape warfare inconsiderably. Technology was meant to bring order to the world. It has quickly become the means of revealing our madness and unleashing toxicity into the world—influencing and instigating entire countries! Wars, violent acts, and laws in countries are also being glorified on-screen in a way that doesn’t even compare to video games. So, this obsession with augmented reality, does it really benefit us all? Except for resolving the substantive and select issues of disease, global warming, and systemic racism—it may not really help us that much. And while responsibility is expected from each of us as citizens of the Earth (that needs our attention urgently), we must hold the people who govern these social platforms responsible too and provoke them to change their policies that inundate and burden entire populations with conflict and incentivizing warfare.
“Technology does not determine outcomes, it opens doors.”
- Historian Lynn White, Jr.
Imagine that you tune into your local news and see the chaos that doesn’t seem to concern you. You think that humanity is suffering constantly and regardless, you remain unaffected by the mystique and drama that is sold to you visually. You are inevitably engulfed by the ideologies represented by a media that has often forsaken journalism for politics. A media that treats reality like a horror film and augments each aspect of your life, making you hungover on extremism and one-sided, fragile views. This portrayal makes you believe that unverified ideologies are necessary and sane. Thus, we have let it take over our lives and run them. We have let it bring out the worst in us and compromise our sense of integrity. And yet, we know that technology cannot fabricate humanity completely or with authenticity. It cannot fabricate empathy and human instinct so deeply or intricately that it overcomes our dark and desperate tendencies. Technology isn’t meant for that. It does not benefit self-service or our need to fabricate reality indefinitely. However, its power is rudimentary in solving global issues that define our existence as a population itself. When iniquity, climate change, and pandemics are imminent issues that define our planet and precede our concerns, does disappearing into a technical void seem worth it to us? Does this recklessness really help anyone?
“Compared even to the development of the phone or TV, the Web developed very quickly.”
- TIM BERNERS-LEE, ENGLISH INVENTOR
When unified, we have proven to use this power for positive changes and reform—yet at this moment in time, our reckless nature as humans seems more distinct and enabled through unregulated and inconsequential use of technology. And this is not the fault of this machine, but that of its users and sellers. We have forgotten to treat technology as a mere cog in the machine of democracy.
If we resolve to narcissistic and hedonistic ways to insert ourselves into the virtual realm then I suppose we may lose the very purpose of its existence and creation. We must identify the morbid and hyperbolic possibilities of engaging too deeply with this tool and the dangers of simulating a human experience with it. Therefore, initiate contact with this tool consciously and willingly to realize its purpose for a better planet and not to worsen society. We must confront the torpid ideas that are sold to society by enabling this tool to prey upon human curiosity, desires, and consciousness. More importantly, we must identify and coerce the insatiably capitalist business model of technology to change in favour of truth and empathy (with relevance to Marxism) to program and create the algorithms that serve us and not the other way around.