By Nishant Shah
When was the last time you told your computer that you love it? Or the last time you caressed your phone fondly, thinking how much you care about it? Remember the time when your e-reader broke its screen, and for the longest time you read through the cracks, reluctant to let go even though you knew you would have to buy a new one? Or have you ever wondered, why, despite all that we know about surveillance and data mining, we not only continue to use all our social media but actually think of the social networks fondly?
We live in the time of sapient technologies. The relationship that we have with them is not the same as we have had with old fashioned objects that were our property. Oh, sure, you must have been upset when the refrigerator broke down, or if one day, your favourite shoes got replaced, but it would have been difficult to talk about your love for those objects. Unless you have very specific memories associated with those objects — your parents bought you the fridge when you got married; those were the first pair of shoes you bought when you graduated — we have always recycled objects, more or less treated them as useful things, measuring their value and worth in their use value to us.
But the digital device is not just an object. It is a thing. A thing is an object-plus. A thing seems to understand, seems to respond, seems to feel, even though it might not be measurable by our existing state of technological scales. The thing is more than something you own, use, and discard. The thing has specific memories, affections, and affectations that train us to respond and communicate with them in particular ways. Pervasive technologies, especially with the mobile devices of computing like smartphones and tablets, are no longer just objects of desire and possession.
Indeed, they seem to desire us back and possess us in strange and unexpected ways. Which is why, there is an entire generation of young people for whom, the default mode of interaction with the world is a flick and a scroll. These are not human intuitive actions. However, the world of interfaces that we live in has trained us to think of the entire universe as a series of searchable menu options through which we can navigate to the furthest frontiers of experience and imagination. Digital devices have shrunk space, accelerated time, and produced for us, a hyperconnectivity which makes us think of everybody just a click away. And we know that in moments of disconnection, we feel helpless, alone, mortal.
Digital things listen to us — I mean, come on, nobody listens to anything that you say as intently and attentively as the algorithms on Facebook that record, store and remember everything that you ever say. Digital things respond to us — the joy of a phone, slowly vibrating, in the recesses of your clothing, letting you know that somebody has reached out to you is universal. Digital things take care of us — your phone is constantly pulling and pushing information, talking to other phones and servers, to make sure that things that you depend on it for, are performed. Reminders, alarms, user reviews, notifications, distribute intelligence, are all at your fingertips.
Digital things are not just things that we love, but things that we love with. They help us connect and transmit emotions in a way that things have never done so before. They are passage points that mediate and extend the scope of our world. It is no wonder, then, that for the millennials, their devices are not just objects they own. They are things, and they are things that they love and care for. This should account for why it is normal to hear somebody hug their computer and say, “I love my laptop because all my friends live in it”, or for someone to confess that when they lose their phone, they feel like they are missing a part of their hand.
The story appeared in print with the headline Call of Love