Hooked on Gadgets

By Alexandre Carvalho, 2009 Fellow

Yesterday morning i
was surprised by synchronicity. Let me explain the threads first, so
you can see and maybe agree with me that the universe does conspire
serendipities here and there. Lately I’ve been reading and reflecting
about McLuhan’s work on media and how it encompasses us, particularly
how all media works us over completely, how it becomes an extension of
human physical or mental faculties. Computers and the internet,
iPhone, Twitter, email, teamworks, Facebook, iPads, laptops – or even
more ancient inventions such as the radio or the wheel – oh my! they
all become embedded in the fabric of who we are collectively and

You may protest. You
may deny this. But let’s be frank and do some recollecting: remember
that day when you left home and forgot your cell phone, or when the
battery went dead and you suddenly realized the preposterous crime
you’ve made, forgetting your life behind, or omitting on the
duty to bring along the charger, the feeder and nurturer of modern
existence? How could you? And how helpless did you, dear homo sapiens contemporaneus, feel? 

Our stuff becomes part
of ourselves. This is no new thought. It can be seen in proverbs that
say that if you want to know someone, just look at his or her books,
music LPs (LP’s, my god), or paintings in the wall. And if you want to
know human history, dear curious reader, just peep at the stuff or as
McLuhan would put it, the media that walked by the monkey’s side. The
history of human evolution is a history of media.

Dear reader, when the email was
invented, no one could do a business case for it, people complained,
tried to keep things as they were, but two decades later it is
impossible to live in our current world without it. Below is a curve
that shows this “innovation adoption pattern”, and this can be applied
to all human innovations in fields as far ranging as management,
sciences and the arts. 



At the same time, no
innovation is free of compromises and trade-offs. And some of those can
take tolls in our families or personal lives. A recent article in the
revealed some of the
pathological symptoms that we face as a result of the excess dependence
on devices. Since i’m a physician, i’ll take the liberty to tag – i
mean, name – the condition as “virtualosis”, or the temporary
withdrawal to an abstract virtual world of information, a plugged-in
state, that once on takes a while to break off from, even after you
turned the gadgets off or stopped briefly using them (to have a
conversation with someone, for example). And this does not relate to
facebook or other singular platform per se but to the whole lot of our gizmos that we are dependent upon to work, relate, or even feel.

The question then
becomes, do we have a choice? Is this under our control or are we
immersed in a new era of media that is extending our faculties and
freedoms but paradoxically restraining our ability to live without it?
What a disconnected life means? How strange it appears to be, when we
observe that the world’s never being so connected but so detached at
the same time?

Well, gotta’ go. Sorry
to keep you for so long; see you around, have to check my email, my
tweeter, my iPhone, facebook, my online newspaper, my…     

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