Thursday, January 27, 2011

Digital Salvation

A bride is walking down the aisle during her wedding ceremony. Instead of taking in the once-in-a-lifetime moment, she pulls out her Blackberry and checks her email. Or maybe she's updating her status, as if noting her experience in cyberspace validates what is happening in reality.

This scene, along with many others (including a family of four sitting around the dinner table while mindlessly staring at their phones), are portrayed in a recent commercial by Microsoft. The ad humorously point out everyday situations where people get into trouble by paying too close attention to their devices. But as the saying goes, much truth is said in jest.

As songwriters, this matters. Big time. When distracted, we miss out on the richness of life - the very material with which art is created. We have to ask ourselves whether technology is helping or hindering our creative endeavors.

The devices are designed to take us into the digital world and, by default, out of the physical. But the former will always pale in comparison to the latter, because a computer can never fully replace human touch. The challenge heightens as technology becomes exponentially more integrated into our daily routines and increasingly more difficult to distinguish the real from the imitation.

We fail when we approach technology as an end rather than means to an end. However, like raccoons drawn to shiny objects, we still can't help but reach out for the latest technology, longing for digital salvation. And marketers know this about us humans. They also know that we as a culture have not yet come to understand how to appropriately embrace technology in daily life.

Even last night at dinner I found myself mindlessly checking my phone for anything new or updated, as if that were more important than asking my wife how her day was. If I'm honest, most of what I would come across online is just repetitive white noise. It's like some kind of drug my mind craves each day that never quite satisfies. Technology makes us feel as though time is short, yet encourages us to waste hoards of it staring in its face. At the end of life, all we will want is more time, yet my fear is that we are wasting a lot of it along the way.

A faster phone is not the answer, as Microsoft claims. Phones and computers are already "fast" enough to do what we need them to do, and it's probable that we will merely accomplish more menial tasks while wasting the same amount of time. Our understanding of "normal" life has already been altered to the point of uncertain return. (For you Dr. Seuss fans, Microsoft could be compared to Mr. McMonkey-McBean from The Sneeches, where he offers no true solution to the actual problem.)

My friend and co-writing mentor Gordon Kennedy says that it's not the technology that matters, but what you do with that technology. And often times I believe the best thing to do for our creativity is to put the technology away and see what's happening in the real world.

Keep writing (and watch the commercial below),



  1. Oh yes! I bug David about this all the time, but now...but NOW I find myself doing it too. Thanks for the reminder! (And you're a great writer! You and Brittany are going to pass on a lot of creativity to some lucky youngster one day!)

  2. Thanks, Lisa! I keep finding myself pulling out my phone when I don't need to, so I'm trying to just set it aside after work hours.