Are you a 21st century digital boy or schizoid man?

Bad Religion sang: "I'm a 21st century digital boy, I don't know how to read but I've got a lot of toys." Why don't we see more rejection of our gadget-crazed lives in popular media? We do, we're just not aware of it.

In the Court of the Crimson King King Crimson

Last night a song called "21st Century (Digital Boy)" by Bad Religion just popped into my head. I don't know why, it just did.

The lyrics seem to reject our growing dependency on technology. The chorus begins with "I'm a 21st century digital boy, I don't know how to live (or read) but I've got a lot of toys."

For the record (no pun intended), the song - originally published in 1990 - is a sort of tribute to a 1969 song by King Crimson: "21st Century Schizoid Man." The line, "Nothing he's got he really needs, twenty first century schizoid man," sounds like a prophecy of our gadget-crazed lives.

It got me thinking about why we don't see more rejection of the digital revolution in popular media. Then I realized that it's actually there. It's just hidden in plain sight.

Rarely do you see any reference to technology in television programming. Why? Probably because it's boring, lacks entertainment value, and would remind people of their boring and tedious work lives.

Here's an example of what I mean. It's currently Sunday morning in the Tobak household. There's a fire going, Daisy the Boxer is snoozing in her bed, and a couple of cats are chasing each other down the hall. My wife and I are in our respective comfy chairs in the family room.

What's so odd about that? Well, we each have a Dell notebook computer on our laps, wirelessly accessing the Internet. The rare conversation goes something like this:

"Did you hear about the collapse of that crane in NY?"

"No, I didn't."

"Check out the Yahoo! news site."

"Wow, that's terrible."

You just don't get that kind of excitement on television these days.

Undeniably, technology has improved our productivity. Even low-tech industry is computerized and robotized. As for communications and e-commerce, well, I'm not sure how we ever got along without that stuff. And have you been in an intensive care unit, lately? The technology is fantastic.

Still, there's a part of each of us that knows that, when we're playing with gadgets on our own time, we're disassociating from the real world and real intimacy. Not that I'm an anti-technology reactionary. My life's been all about technology. Technology's been very, very good to me.

It's just that, if you pay close attention to television programming, you'll see a growing gap between the lives portrayed on your high-definition plasma screen and what's going on in the real world. I'm not just talking about sitcoms and dramas, either.

So-called reality television is nothing of the kind. Like I've got 20 women vying for my affections. Yeah, right. I can't carry a tune to save my life and I've never even been on a deserted tropical island. The only thing on reality television that even remotely resembles my real life is the words, "You're fired."

My point? I guess I'm thinking that the absence of technology in television programming speaks volumes about how we really feel about its role in our day-to-day lives.

We may not all be writing punk songs decrying our gadget-crazed, consumerized society. But I bet there's a 21st century digital boy (or girl) inside each of us just dying to get out and take a walk or maybe just do something, anything, analog.

 

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