High Tech, High Touch: Our Fascination with What’s Real?

This morning’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, my hometown newspaper, especially caught my attention because of three different, unrelated articles united with a common theme – the public’s fascination with what’s “real” in our society.

This coincides with a time in our era of Americana where extraordinary value is placed on the “fake” – body-enhancing implants and chemicals, lip-synched voices in musical performances, widespread lying, photo-shopped images, reality shows, unwarranted celebrity (The Kardashians), sports fantasy camps, online and video gaming, faux news shows (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart), moral indignation over fictional events and relationships, and even talk shows about fictional TV shows (Talking Dead – and Walking Dead). Is this why we hold the “real” so preciously?

In my mind, the concept was born when, 30 years ago, when I read the book Megatrends by John Naisbitt. In the book, Naisbitt devotes an entire chapter to the phenomenon that “whenever new technology is introduced into society, there must be a counterbalancing human response – that is, high touch – or the technology is rejected… The more technology around us, the more the need for human touch.” In 1999, he helped write a follow-on book devoted entirely to the topic – High Tech High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning.

My interpretation is that the more that technology pervades our lives, replacing activity that previously was done manually, the greater our craving for the “real thing” rather than a copy. It may be why the accusation “She lied” or “He lied” is one of the most damaging that can be made. It shatters credibility. Perhaps this is why an icon of television broadcasting, Brian Williams of NBC-TV, drew widespread public ridicule and backlash for making false accounts of his helicopter experience in wartime Iraq.

When I was in my senior year as a journalism major in college, a professor made a bold prediction. He envisioned that with the coming of such high technology advancements as microwave ovens, which should free up time in our day, the divorce rate would increase because people would have more open blocks of time and become bored with each other faster.

After 30 years of having been seasoned by life’s experience, I have to disagree with my esteemed teacher. If any free time in our lives opens up, we seem compelled to fill it immediately with other activity, presumably to avoid boredom. Nature abhors a vacuum. We’ve never been busier. Look at how quickly we reach for our iphones and mobile devices for short periods of time when we ride elevators or wait in line.

I’m no luddite. I love technology. But its intrusion and encroachment into daily life has led to a Megatrends-style pushback in our senses as human beings, and we’re craving the real.

So what in today’s Post-Gazette was so genuine? Among the stories, all with a historical bent, were “Long Lost Apollo 11 Artifacts Discovered in Neil Armstrong’s Closet” – “How a Long-Lost Magna Carta Was Found” – and “Vanished Mental Health Records Stymie Genealogists.”

Last week’s similar stories were about the court decision to return the original casket which held the remains of John F. Kennedy’s purported assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and how authorities had located the Spanish grave of famed Don Quixote author Miguel Cervantes.

Some of my other favorites from the past year are “A New Record Price Set for a Photograph” – “Copernicus Book Thought Destroyed in Fire is Found Again” – “In the Margins of Twelve Years a Slave” – and “Skeleton Found Under Parking Lot Confirmed to Be King Richard III.”

If you’re interested, I track many of these stories on the “Minerd.com’s Recommended” page on my award-winning website.

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