I am anxious.
When I gaze into the screen-lit, Alexa-led, drone-dropped future, I am anxious.
I study the future for a living, but when it comes to actually living in these changing technological times, I’m a skeptic. I eschew many aspects of our always on, constantly connected culture of oversharing. I hate talking about my health and think someone’s personal fitness regimen is about as interesting as their favorite credit card. I fear what the creation and dispersion of our digital identities will do to our self-perceptions. I think efficiency has become too high of a priority. I think democracy has no place in cultural critique. I’m nervous that the open platform promise of the Internet gave way to near-monopolies whose dominance would make robber baron Andrew Carnegie jealous and who control something much more powerful than our money: our minds.
Admittedly most of my distaste for technology stems from personal weakness. You don’t hate McDonald’s. You hate that you want McDonald’s. I don’t hate technology. I hate that, in so many private battles over my attention, it wins.
Can curiosity cure anxiety? To see, I surrendered. I committed myself to living the most futuristic life possible for a month. I downloaded apps, used the digital equivalent of conventional things whenever I could, and I kept a little diary.
This is what I learned…
I made a lot of money for doing nothing. I made hundreds on AirBnB and dozens with Wag! (a dog walking app deserving of its self-appointed exclamation point). It felt good, too, helping tourists and harried dog owners. I can think of absolutely no downside to this trend of paying me to play with puppies and go on vacation.
I vacationed like a local. AirBnB apartment. Apps to meet locals. Maps to look informed. Yelp for good bars.
I became an efficiency-maximizing machine… I would cancel an Uber if it was more than four minutes away.
The future: always in a rush to waste time on the Internet.
I made mistakes with ease and grace. I ordered bananas on Amazon Prime Now. I thought “quantity” meant number of bananas. In fact it meant number of bunches of bananas. I will never stop finding it amusing that one time I had 70 bananas delivered to my door in less than an hour.
I went on a lot of boring dates. Meeting someone at a bar, a party, there’s a certain spontaneity. I allow myself the unconventional. I openly think past my “type.” But online I’m a closed-off, over-analytical optimizer, eliminating curated contenders for even the most minor compatibility violations (“Could I marry someone who wears orange?”).
During the text-led lead-up to a date, I felt less like a person and more like a speech bubble, striving to be interesting but not weird, interested but not eager, busy but not overworked, flexible but not too available. I needed to be free at a very specific time and needed to fit a very specific type. A TaskRabbit for romance.
The dates I went on, we ended up having so much in common we had nothing to talk about.
I watched too much TV. The revolution will be binge watched. So I surrendered. And then, as revolutions are wont to do, it took over. Kimmy Schmidt. Breaking Bad. OJ Simpson. The excess became comfortable. Portlandia. Empire. Seinfeld. Sex and the City.
It was all very entertaining without being satisfying. Stripped of suspense, the whirl of plot twists was delicious but empty, spritzed with the guilt of a man who lost control.
I doubted the Wisdom of the Crowd. “Unrealized potential. It felt unfinished.” – Amazon Shopper J. Norburn on The Sound and the Fury.
I got less patient and more demanding. When you have a ClassPass Kore class starting in 10 minutes, you have no time for lines.
I got anxious… Am I getting enough likes? Am I posting too many pictures? Why is he liking my photo but not texting me back? Should I text back now or wait? Oh my god delete that. Don’t you dare post that. I’m not kidding at all.
…but I resolved it. I have always wanted to meditate, in large part because both Oprah and Ellen do. I finally do now thanks to the Headspace app. That little ladder of accomplishment and those daily reminders really got me. A victory for the connected age (an ironic victory, since my phone saved me from my phone).
So what have I concluded?
- In the future we will be much busier but we will get less done.
- We will be liberated from chores but chained to work.
- We will be happily connected but never get enough validation.
- We will never lose touch or lose stuff; we will never get lost or locked out.
- We’ll have immediate everything on-demand, and patience will be an outdated concept.
- We will go out with our perfect match, and when we gaze into the eyes of our algorithmic ideal, we’ll be overcome with curiosity about the matches unmet.
- We will be financially prepared for retirement with a calm, well-meditated mind. Headspace filled with Acorns.
- We won’t be in better shape, but we will feel more guilty about it.
- We will only eat good food and watch good TV (★★★★★).
I am unexpectedly excited for this future if I can figure out how to use it right.
Will I be a fanny-pack’ed Spanish tourist trampled by the bulls of technological determinism? Or a jet-pack’ed superhero beta-tested to perfection by my cloud-connected brain?
Dan Clay is a senior associate at Lippincott, a creative consultancy.