Become One with the Car
Thinking a bit more about what we do to ourselves
Last week, we talked about email, thinking about technology's ecological nature, and how rear view mirror thinking caused us to misunderstand what that technology actually “wanted.” It is a bit odd to speak about technology as a thing that wants something, but we have observed time and time again that the initial use of technology is very rarely where it stops.
In the case of email (or whatever electronic type method you use to communicate in its place), our foray into instantaneous text-based communications went beyond being a way to send fax-type messages more easily and moved into the territory of “natural” human language. We went from being conscious of sending a message because there was a little bit of friction to sending messages all the time to something we don’t think twice about. In a sense, it almost becomes part of us.
What we’ve really stumbled back upon is the line we draw between artificial and natural, at least in terms of communication. This is a topic we’ve talked about before, and here its importance becomes all too clear.
When dealing with “external” tools like email, text messages, and similar communication media, we are unaware of their effect on us because we are unaware that we are even using them.
Now, I don’t mean that we are literally unaware that we are holding a phone or typing on a computer. But how “aware” are we of our choice to communicate in the ways that we do?
On any given day, if I say that I’ve talked to someone, what would we consider that to mean? The literal meaning of talk is to speak, but no one would call me a liar if I did any of the following:
Sent an email
Sent a text
DMed on Instagram
What if I had written them a letter? I doubt many would consider that talking to someone.
Our definition of what it is to “talk” to one another has been redefined, likely without our consent or knowledge.
Now, is this a big deal on its own? Probably not. It’s just one word. But from a societal perspective, what does it mean that this type of process has happened to us over and over again?
Lance Strate in Media Ecology uses this example:
…I would suggest that learning how to drive is like learning a language. When we first begin, we are translating back and forth between our experience outside of the car and the new experience of driving the car, which is why everything seems strange and not quite right. Eventually, however, comes the point where we merge with the car, become the car, in effect are transformed into a cyborg as our body and sense of personal space merge with the car and expand to take on this exoskeleton, where we put the car on… We become the car, so much so that when we are in an accident… we do not say that the other person hit my car, we say that that person hit me! And in meddling with the car, we become fluent in car, in the same way that we are fluent in another language when we are able to think in that language directly, rather than trying to translate back and forth substituting words in one language for another.1
We don’t normally think about our fluent use of technologies as learning another language. Sometimes I become vaguely aware of it when I’m trying to explain a piece of technology that I know very well to someone who doesn’t know it at all. I know how to “think” in a native way with a tool or application and have to “translate” what I’m doing back into something the other person understands. We talk about becoming “fluent” with technology in the same way we talk about becoming fluent with a language.
In general, it’s very helpful to be fluent in a language or application. But we have to recognize that the “internalizing” of any technology (language, skill, whatever) to such a high degree does more than allowing us to be able to be “fluent” in that technology. Our fluency in any technology changes us back, causing us to reframe our thoughts in its terms.
My use of a sales funnel in a CRM tool imposes a strict structure on relationships that is helpful in a business context but may or may not be helpful in other areas. My use of daily zoom calls to talk to clients and even friends over the past year resets the expectations of interaction in subtle but meaningful ways.
Typically, the things we are talking about here are small, but their collective impact on the way we interact with the world compounds over time.
Our challenge for today is then to examine:
What are the technologies you use so fluently that they have shaped back the way you think?
Are the ways that technologies have shaped your thinking helpful or hurtful in all of the contexts they may be unintentionally applied?
Thanks for reading, and see you again next week.