Suzanne Fields

COROLLA, N.C. -- Strange new sounds disturb the rustle of the eternal sea, and unaccustomed noises echo through wood and across dune. There's no respite inside the summer houses, on the sidewalk outside the ice-cream parlor. These are sounds out of sync with the whine of the mosquito, the low buzz of the voices of distant children at play, the sudden trill of a songbird.

 High tech intrudes everywhere. The insistent chimes of cell phones, video games and the click-click-click from the keyboard of the laptop invade consciousness like mind snatchers, distracting from the homely rhythms that once contributed to the inner life of family. A ride on a bicycle path, shaded by oaks and pines, affords a view of men, women and children, walking the walk and talking the talk on cell phones, their senses oblivious to everything around them. (I think some of them were phoning each other.)

 Few of us would give up our high-tech "necessities," but even fewer of us think much about what we sacrifice for our wired comforts. Emerson, decidedly out of literary fashion, recalls how "progressive" inventions inevitably sacrifice something dear.

  "The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet," he wrote in "Self-Reliance," one of his several essays that speaks directly to our postmodern times. "He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun."

 Computers store knowledge. We take shortcuts through Google, Dogpile and Yahoo to avoid actually reading a history text or losing ourselves for an hour or two in literature. Technological props change the way we think about the world around us, how we use our senses to interpret experience. Not all is benign.

 The most problematic "progressive" toy is the video game, preying on the sensibilities of the young who play them by the hour. Some are educational, and researchers suggest they can contribute to hand-eye coordination. Some wise men even defend the violent games as a "substitute" for aggressive behavior, acting as sublimation for scary thoughts (as in fairy tales). But the Big Bad Wolf by comparison is a fluffy puppy.

 The most notorious games project extremely vicious images, both sexual and criminal. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the best selling adult game that soon fell into the hands of children, garners most of the attention because of its pornographic images, but it's the violence that's the non-exception that proves the rule. In a disturbing essay in The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society, Christine Rosen writes of the effect one game had on her when she was researching her article.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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