Before launching into a narrative of my first memories with technology, I think it’s important to explain how my young mind first began to conceive of the idea of technology. Looking back, the word “technology” immediately evokes fond memories of video game cartridges and trips to “Computer Warehouse” to find new upgrades to the family personal computer; however, the word “technology” encompasses far more than mere electronic gadgetry and toys. But this is how I first came to know “technology”, as something distinctly new, electronic and fun to play with and enjoy. This understanding neglects the otherwise vital implications “technology” had for my young life even as early as birth. As a sickly infant, I required the aid of sophisticated medical technologies to give my lungs time to develop and grow; engineering technologies made possible the opportunity to live in a comfortable home that remained warm even in the harshest of Idaho winters; and, telecommunication technologies kept me in contact with friends and relatives all over the world. But, still, “technology” only manifested itself to me in the Nintendo Entertainment System and personal computer, not in the walls of my home or the bus that drove me to school each day.
The youngest of four children, my initial encounters with technology were mediated by my siblings, in particular my two older brothers who instilled in me a love for the newest and best technology that the market had to offer. My brothers were the “gatekeepers” of technology in that not only were they the disseminators of electronic technology and gadgetry (by this I mean that they were the source of my parents’ information about what technology to buy), but whatever was their conception of technology eventually became my own.
While my brothers were away at school during the day, my half-day Kindergarten afforded me a few hours to experiment with my brothers’ technology on my own, primarily their video game systems, including the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and an IBM PC. Both required learning new “languages” in order to interface with the video game capabilities each possessed: the NES needed to be “hooked up” to the television via a coaxial cable to see the images contained on the game cartridge while the DOS operating system on the PC could only be navigated via a command-line interface that used an unfamiliar combination of English characters to find and execute programs. Mastering the process of setting up video game consoles and “cracking” the “c:/whatever.exe” language of DOS constituted my first solo encounters with technology without the paternal influence of my siblings. I use the word “language” because technology’s tendency to become more or less sophisticated seems to depend on the ability of the user to contextualize particular pieces of technology with their previous encounters with older or different forms of technology. These experiences seem to weave together and form a sort-of language that, itself, evolves with each new piece of technology.
My introduction to technology at such a young age is likely the result of a natural curiosity with electronics. This inclination to experiment made me proficient with technology early on and many of my friends and family came to understand me as a tech “whiz”. When a new PC or modem was brought into our home, I became the go-to guy for installing the equipment not only because of my ability to quickly understand new technology but also because my slender size allowed me access to the small spaces through which wiring was often run. My brothers came to call me “MacGyver” for this very reason.
Later in my life technology has been vital to developing my current obsession with independent music: in secondary education, the cost of purchasing CDs and MP3s proved prohibitive but upon discovering the world of “peer-to-peer” file sharing in college, I found it possible to immerse myself in all types of music. I never had before devoted much time listening to music, but the incredible access that peer-to-peer networks provide to music changed this completely, creating a completely new niche in my life. Moral concerns about file-sharing aside, this technology introduced a new aesthetic experience for me to which I never would have had access without it.
My technological literacy has waned over the years, partially due to a resistance to participate in new social media, but also because my interest in technology began to plateau as broadband made the internet more accessible and efficient at providing information. My interest in technology earlier in life was due in large part to the fact that I could encounter it on my own: technology was a solo affair, something that I could come to understand without other people. Thus the increasingly “social” nature of new media and technology has held little allure to me as, again, I prefer the isolation that technology seemed to previously afford. New technology, today, seems to be oriented around globalizing the experience of technology, or, at least, making it possible to play/use with more people, both in your own home and with others around the globe.
The Nintendo Wii and the Xbox 360 video game consoles I think are emblematic of this: the Wii eschewed the obsession with graphical improvement and, instead, focused on changing the video game experience to be more interactive and accessible to the non-video gaming consumer; the Xbox 360 is marketed for its multiplayer connectivity through its “Xbox Live” platform. I think this sort of “web 2.0” phenomenon will likely characterize the future of technology, at least in the short term.
I am a bit paranoid about the future. While technology has proved instrumental in several positive populist movements (Egypt, Tunisia, perhaps limited success in Iran and Syria), Bentham’s/Foucault’s panopticon seems to be a looming specter. Both public and private institutions are increasingly relying on forms of technological surveillance that make me worry about the future possibility of organizing resistance to neoliberalism and capitalism.