Lives of Digital Illusion

"Jeff Bazos says it'll be ready by 2016," I said into the large microphone sitting on my desk. "Can you imagine? Amazon packages delivered in half an hour!"

"But there's no way," said another boy into his own microphone, 300 miles away. "Drones are expensive, and besides, it's dangerous to just drop packages from the sky."

"Jeff Bazos says it will be ready by 2016," I repeated. "But I agree, it doesn't sound feasible." Silence for a moment, then: "But y'know, if Amazon does pull this off, and it isn't too expensive... Marco, I'm not sure I'd have a reason to ever shop anywhere else!"

"I like shopping, though," Marco protested.

"I do too," I admitted, though I wondered, but for how long?

With every new technology, a piece of our culture is forever lost. I still have fond memories of helping children develop photos in the dark room, at a day camp where I worked during my summers off from high school. The kids loved it. They enjoyed turning their film into negatives and their negatives into prints, which they would then run through chemicals under pale red light, watching as their pictures magically came into view. They were sad when the dark room closed, not knowing how close we were to running out of film. I'm amazed the stores kept selling film for as long as they did. Who was buying it? I rarely see anyone with film cameras anymore; I haven't seen a single one since last summer, and that sighting was so unusual that I actually approached the young woman out of curiosity and asked why she was using film. "I don't like digital photos," she had explained. "They're less authentic." When I asked what she meant, she asked if I'd heard the word "authentic" before. I wanted to say that I had-that I just didn't understand what it had to do with film-but she'd already turned to leave, and as she did I couldn't help mentally rolling my eyes. Authentic. What a waste of time. As long as the images looked the same, I couldn't care less how "authentic" they were.

When a piece of technology is released that lets us make more efficient use of our money or time, society has by and large been willing to adopt it, though often not without complaint. The common wisdom still seems to be that screens are turning us into zombies (I guess books are too, then, because I stare at those a lot), that the Internet is making us narrow-minded (ignoring all the topics I've stumbled across while lost in the hyperlinks of interconnected web pages), and that Facebook and Skype and texting and Twitter are getting in the way of genuine relationships. When my family and I went out for dinner this past summer, the waitress offered us a discount in exchange for agreeing to part with our phones for the duration of the meal. I later complained about this bitterly to Marco, who said it didn't sound like such a bad thing-I was out with my family, so they should be the focus of my attention, and besides, I don't normally use my phone during dinner anyway. "But it's the principle of it, Marco," I explained to the microphone on my desk. "The implication is that we're all just so attracted to our evil technology overlords that we actually need a financial incentive to break free!"

Marco and I have never met in person, though not for lack of trying. We've attempted to arrange visits, but it's a long trip, and even after five years we have never been successful. Even so, I consider him one of my best friends. I wonder how far we are from a time when no one needs to travel anywhere-when we can take classes online, and converse over Skype, and have purchases delivered to us via Amazon's autonomous drones. Travel is expensive and time consuming, and it wreaks havoc on the natural environment. Our screens do disconnect us from the world, but we can also experience the world through our screens. Being wrapped in a digital universe of our own creation may sound like a sad existence now, but once screens and speakers mature to the point where they're indistinguishable from the real world, and once we can recreate smell and touch and perhaps even taste in addition to sight and sound-eventualities already being explored in many university research labs-would it still really be such a bad thing?

Well, would it?

I can't find a flaw, but I can't get excited; it's a case of disliking my own reasoning. It's because I remember my nights of shopping adventures with friends, and because of the kids and the film and the dark room, and because of being five years old and watching shooting stars with my father, as the spectacular image of the milky way rose to infinity above us....

As long as the images looked the same, I couldn't care less how authentic they were.

Had that night sky been an IMAX screen, would I have known the difference? Perhaps I would, but theaters are improving, and the sky is not. Are the ancient castles in England worth more than the ones at Disney World? Because Disney's castles draw more crowds and generate more revenue than their authentic inspiration ever will. I want to believe that authenticity carries intrinsic value, but I also believe in following logic, and I can't find logic in authenticity when there are superior illusions to be seen. I will never be able-don't want to be able-to become one of the anti-technology holdouts, driven by nostalgia to decry change for change's sake. Once the rest of the world has gone digital, I don't want to be the girl holding onto film.