THROUGH THE FIRE: Unplugging Myself

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By MARI NAKANO

(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on Feb. 18, 2010)

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My life is too reliant on this really expensive six-pound rectangular piece of metal called my laptop. This is very disturbing. For all of you who have a steadier relationship with your computers rather than your significant other, for those who have a neck cramp from peering down at your cell phones all day and even through meals, this might be a good one to read.

We have these anthropomorphic relationships with technology that have perhaps prompted us to be increasingly disconnected from more raw and crudely experiential forms of connection with one another, but more so from our very selves. It’s not a topic of everyday conversation per se, but we all know that we talk to our computers. We even get emotional over them when they recover things we thought we lost, or when they freeze and fry all our important documents. One minute we’re petting them like they’re our loyal Lassie, and the next we are cussing them out and threatening to throw them out of a window.

Of course, my laptop has gotten me far. I have even grown to tell it, “I love you.” Without it, I couldn’t be a designer. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to sustain a long-distance relationship that turned into a marriage (Thanks Skype). People like me who are heavily reliant on their computers realize the frailty of technologies – that’s why we own backup hard drives, upload things to online servers and burn things to DVDs. I think most of us, however, forget how vulnerable we can become once we don’t have these affordances. If your hard drive crashed, would you crash too?

As you can probably figure, I had what then I considered a disaster with my computer that left me pretty reflective about an array of things. I was laptop-less for only a few days, but the idea that I would lose all my important design jobs, my photos, my music, my writing among other things left me ever so slightly depressed, quietly frantic and a bit sleep deprived. I was one of the lucky ones, saved by a young genius in a blue shirt. Perhaps karma spared me from the techno-devil, but the possible death of my laptop awoke a numbed part of me that has left my senses tingling ever since. In the short time that I was forced to live a semi-analog lifestyle, the urgency to reconnect myself to myself arose. I was appalled that my laptop basically became an extension of myself. I have always been avid about remaining connected to the earth and to reality, but in this particular society, I guess it’s easy to get sucked into electronic wormholes. To be so dejected over all of this made me realize what I like to call my pitifoolishness. I can’t lose myself to a gadget!

A few years ago, the advertising chair of my art school told me that no matter how much I would be taught and encouraged to make things with technology, I should never forget how to live my life with my own hands. I think we really have to think about how much of ourselves is instilled in our very bodies versus installed in our personal devices. Despite the wonderments of technology, we should aim to be more dexterous so we can still function strongly as people off-screen. We have to be able to backup ourselves more often than we spend time backing up our hard drives, don’t you think?

Perhaps some of you are laughing, saying how I’m just another victim who is feeling vulnerable and writing this as a warning based on pure urgency. Really, I am writing this because at the end of the day it’s important to be able to know ourselves and come back to the center of ourselves when the appendages and extensions that we rely on so much – i.e. technology, money, career, notoriety, etc. – just can’t be there for us. Who are you at the end of the day, minus all the material things surrounding you? What do you carry inside of you that doesn’t need an iPhone application or Google map to help it manifest? I understand that many peoples’ careers and art forms rely heavily on computer programs and digital communication. Technology is not something to be rejected. I totally respect it. However, there is a balance we should try to consciously maintain between how much we expend on our core selves and how much of our soul we transmit into our PC’s. I’ve learned a good lesson and have plans to spend more time living more, for lack of better words, proportionately between the analog and digital worlds. I have better things to do than sulk over spilled 1’s and 0’s. I need to keep more of me inside of me, as opposed to in front of me in this computer upon which I am typing.
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Mari Nakano can be reached by e-mail. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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