We are a globeful of dopamine addicts. We endlessly seek and never find the newest new thing.
Seeking. You can’t stop doing it. Sometimes it feels as if the basic drives for food, sex, and sleep have been overridden by a new need for endless nuggets of electronic information. We are so insatiably curious that we gather data even if it gets us in trouble. Google searches are becoming a cause of mistrials as jurors, after hearing testimony, ignore judges’ instructions and go look up facts for themselves. We search for information we don’t even care about. Nina Shen Rastogi confessed in Double X, “My boyfriend has threatened to break up with me if I keep whipping out my iPhone to look up random facts about celebrities when we’re out to dinner.” We reach the point that we wonder about our sanity. Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times said she became so obsessed with Twitter posts about the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest that she spent days “refreshing my search like a drugged monkey.”
We actually resemble nothing so much as those legendary lab rats that endlessly pressed a lever to give themselves a little electrical jolt to the brain. While we tap, tap away at our search engines, it appears we are stimulating the same system in our brains that scientists accidentally discovered more than 50 years ago when probing rat skulls.
After mulling that over from yesterday, as I trudged upstairs scrolling through my Google Reader feed and Twitter feeds (real, virtual, and feline) on the iPhone 3GS that’s become grafted to my body, I thought about how I’d spent the evening. I was in Second Life, watching a live webcast from the Netroots Nation convention in Pittsburgh in a separate screen as I sat “inworld” chatting with fellow travelers in both open and private channels. At the same time, I was going through some recent images I took on SL, deleting the culls and uploading the keepers to my avatar’s Flickr stream (which I keep separate from “real” photos on my “real” Flickr stream). Also simultaneously with this, while waiting for former Pres. Clinton to make the keynote address, I was listening to a music channel in the background, while listening to other speakers make their points for progressive change from the “netroots.” This music was either Internet radio playing in WinAmp, or a live musician singing blues standards “inworld” before somebody else was supposed to appear in a streamed audio chat (this was supposed to be the founder of Daily Kos, but there were technical issues).
As I noted all the things I was multitasking in public chat, I quipped “…too much?”
Came back the reply, “Not until you crash.”
So I thought about that after Second Life inevitably crashed on me, probably due to so many people then in attendance at both Netroots in Second Life, and SL’s own annual conference in San Francisco logging in to tell all their friends what well-known “avatarbrities” (I just totally made that up) look like in real life after the panel discussions were over.
Then, after work was over, I walked to the elevator reading my feed, read it on the way down, read it in a downstairs loo, read it walking out to the car, and read it in the car waiting for the air conditioning to cool off the interior. And shared, and shared, and shared. Because I had stuff, you see, stuff that I had read and approved of that other people might like to see, because it was new stuff to them. And then I ran across something that made me stop and actually slow down and think about what I was reading, rather than merely consuming in “speed-read” mode (I am a fast reader, and also I have always had a tendency towards hyperfocus).
As a recovering former Utahn, I keep an eye on anything counter-cultural coming out of Zion, which is why I happen to have Salt Lake’s entertaining City Weekly blog in my feed:
A design competition tries to reinvent the suburban wasteland with flying ships and big box gardens. What they really need is as simple as a gin and tonic.
Big house. Vinyl siding. Manicured lawn. Two-car garage, maybe three. Backyards to hide from neighbors. Faux brick front.
Pavement for miles. Parking lots. Stores with acreage of stuff. Stuff to eat, stuff to build, stuff to consume, stuff to waste.
Work in the city. Drive on the interstate. Eat in the chain. Home. Rinse. Repeat.
Suburbia spreads like bindweed, one interconnected, land-swallowing swath of humanity. Beige blooms in the brown desert while its denizens stare at high-definition television shows about life in paradise. They bought their homes to live the American Dream, and spend the rest of their lives dreaming of escape.
Escape they will, fleeing to the latest and newest refuge. Maybe it’s the “green” subdivision with colorful houses, maybe it’s the high-rise condominiums with restaurants on the ground floor and a freeway entrance within walking distance. Maybe it’s a boat, a cabin, an RV. Or maybe it’s similar more of the same, super-sized.
America is a very young country, as anybody who has ever visited Europe can attest. Many Europeans have houses that are older than America, yet we as Americans search for everything new. We created a democratic civilization built with the most adaptable legal document ever created, yet we cannot adapt as a people to minor nuisances. Need four outlets in every room instead of the one in that 50-year old house? Buy a new house. Ipod adapter in the car because you cannot listen to the radio? Buy a new car? Bored with the long-standing cafe run by your neighbor? Hey, there’s an In N’ Out burger opening!
This ceaseless need to fulfill every want and desire has a number of negative impacts, most of them on a person’s soul. But there are also smaller ones, such as the eventual desertion of the existing new for the New New. That leaves behind empty homes, deserted lots, and discarded shopping malls. Eventually, something will have to be done with them.
Well, that was exactly what I didn’t want when we were buying this house, and that is exactly what we ended up with given our budget and our geographic location, jobs, and so on. I live that life, schlepping through grey suburbia all year and consuming images of more attractive, scenic or inspiring locales via television, movies, photographs, or total online immersion. We don’t regret our decision buying our home, but I do regret that we’re not in a tree-lined, charmingly old-fashioned small-town looking suburb with rail service and bike paths within walking distance — that ws completely out of the question in our price range. We made a good decision after really looking hard for a long time.
A week ago, my husband David and I went looking for a new desktop computer for me. I had expressed a vague desire to have a better Second Life experience, and we thought we had grabbed a system off the shelf that had the right hardware for such things… but in a fit of consumerist confusion, I said (stupidly) that I thought a computer with an Intel logo would do fine, because it’s a brand name.
So we grabbed this one box, after almost grabbing some other box. Which would have had a more powerful video graphics card tailor made for the online 3D experience, actually (not a hardcore gaming system, still pretty low-end). We took this one box home and loaded it up with a few programs that I like or use and got bookmarks set up and cleaned my desk and vacuumed and all that, and then I logged in to Second Life and realized my error. David had noticed as we opened the box that it wasn’t quite the right computer we’d started to buy, but oh, I just had to get it started up, so… yeah. And what with one thing and another, it’s now pretty much impossible (and embarassing) to return because I took a few days to realize that I’d have to leave my SL settings on “minimum quality” for pretty much ever if I didn’t want my experience to slow to the speed of an old-fashioned travelogue with slides, or a film strip, and in the meantime I’d gotten it all set up nice and pretty and bonded with it over the pretty, pretty Aero (glassy, flashy graphics). All because I didn’t print out the system requirements page and take it with me…
And yet on the other hand, for everything else I do with it other than Second Life, it’s fast, and powerful, and makes 2D images and videos look gorgeous. Games are gorgeous as long as the action is flat. It looks and feels great, and it happened to get a great review at C/NET, a site we’ve both come to trust because of their little “Hello, TiVo people” tech gadgetry review show. I’ll be able to take a lot of photos, and slide the compact flash card or one of several different kinds of storage media or cables into a handy little port right on the front, hidden under a little door when not in use. It’ll really be great, for everything other than Second Life. For that, it’ll be adequate, but not visually stunning. A previous post about the new computer got automatically reposted on Facebook, and a friend immediately commented “Upgrade to Windows 7 NOW!!!”
So then I started looking into fixing my error by perhaps upgrading the video on the new machine, which turned into a big mess because this thing on my desk is a sleek, slim little beast, and there are very, very few options for what’s called a “small form factor (SFF)” system, especially one that has a very low power profile. I’d have to crack open a brand new computer just to add an itty bitty viddy card (only $59.99 after rebate!), and upgrade the power supply (only $29.99) literally “to boot.”
Unless… hey, wait, this guy has the same computer, and he got an nVdia 9500 GT PCIe low profile card to run… after a ridiculous amount of swapping to save on power demands.
Good God, brand new machine and I’m still endlessly seeking the new new gadget to make it into what I should have bought in the first place.
But enough about that, time to play Mahjong Titans, it looks and sounds so purdy… after making sure the title and first few lines of this post are under Twitter’s 140-character limit, that is.