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If this is the future, I don’t want it

| Monday, March 30, 2020

When eight-year-old Ashton pictured life in the future, she saw it something like this: 

  • Waking up in the morning and strolling down to the kitchen, where she could command the appliances to make whatever she wanted for breakfast 
  • Walking into her giant closet and being greeted by an artificially intelligent personal stylist robot to get dressed for the day
  • Flying her solar-powered car to work
  • Spending her lunch break across the globe (or maybe even the galaxy) by sending out her Star Wars-style hologram to see her friends
  • A bunch of other silly, high-tech things

In her mind, a similar version of the future would be available to everyone, without exception. We’d all be able to do whatever we wanted and machines would take care of the rest. 

For a long time, I was disappointed that eight-year-old Ashton was an incredibly bad psychic. It wasn’t the exact details of the prediction that mattered so much as the anticipation of being alive to see a future where the whole world could function entirely online.

Now that I’ve had a taste of such a future, I wish it would go away and never come back. 

I thought the transition to life online would make our world a happy, connected, completely equitable place. But what we’ve collectively been through over the past weeks (which have felt more like a year-long nightmare) has proven my childhood dreams of tech-driven society to be wrong. Obviously, as an adult person, I came to understand years ago that they were incredibly naive, but I now offer the comparison because of how stark it is. 

My days presently look like this: 

  • Wake up far later than intended because the “guest room” of sorts I’m staying in is in the basement of our house, which means it’s really dark. I don’t know how to wake myself up when it’s dark. Please send suggestions.
  • Make something for breakfast and wash the dishes (second part optional … sorry, Dad).
  • Spend the rest of the day watching Zoom calls, pre-recorded lectures and excessive amounts of Netflix and . . . I know, it’s embarrassing … TikTok. 
  • Throughout the day, text and Snapchat friends, roll eyes at excessive number of Instagram challenges and then participate in some of said challenges, laugh at Twitter. As I do all these things, I receive constant New York Times notifications and become excessively upset by the present state of the world, as I realize this existence, which I find boring and mundane, is one of the luckiest possible ways to exist in the present.
  • Mull on that for the rest of the day and go to sleep far too late, because TikTok is funny and also it’s kinda hard to sleep when you’re worried that this might just be life forever. Like, it probably won’t, but I have no idea what’s possible anymore.

If you read my columns frequently, perhaps you’ll remember the last one I wrote, where I explored how screen time impacts my mental health and my connection to the world around me. I concluded that less screen time was better for me and I was so happy I had brought my numbers down.

Well, friends, as you can tell from my daily agenda, those numbers have shot right back up. I have exceeded what was previously the highest amount of hours spent on my phone nearly every day for the past two weeks. 

I can feel the toll it’s taking on my happiness and connectedness to the people around me (both my family, who are very very close and my friends, who are very very far) but it’s hard to find the strength and motivation to do anything else. If I put down my phone, I’d have to take a moment to actually feel and process the time we’re living through. I’d have to grieve our world’s collective, gigantic loss and I’d have to accept the fact that this will not last forever, but it could go on for a very long time. It would be painful and frustrating and disappointing. 

After a few days of processing, I’d probably be okay. I could start a new writing project or ride bikes with my family. I could learn how to cook some crazy food, sew a ballgown, paint a cool flower, ride a unicycle or literally anything else. And I’d have the foreseeable future to dedicate myself to this new thing. I’d probably get really good at it. It would be great! 

But those first few days of processing are scary and as a person who feels everything very deeply inside but struggles to ask for help processing on the outside, they’re easy to run from. If I just suppress the internal by shutting it up, I can perform like everything is entirely fine. I’m most certainly writing this down because, in publicly admitting that everything is not fine, I am forcing myself into the place where I can finally begin to process. I lived in the vegetative phone-addict place for weeks and I really hated it. Hopefully, next time you hear from me, I’ll be out of the woods and bragging about how I can juggle. Or something.

But for now, I’m sitting on the couch, beginning to allow myself to process it all. At this moment, all I really know about our weird time-warped present, where inequity is painfully obvious and grief is running rampant, is that it cannot become our future. I know that once this is all over, we are going to have a giant party in the streets and hug literally every human being we can see. It will be beautiful. But once the party ends, we’re going to need to rebuild our society and our communities and our systems and structures. It will be hard. 

After we come out of this place where we exist alone together, I hope we can find a way to live together, together. It should become difficult for anyone to say that healthcare is not a human right. It should become difficult for academia to keep labeling the workers who have literally kept us alive throughout this “low-skilled.” It should become impossible for us to view anyone else as “other.” Some will still find a way, but if the rest of us take the time in this moment to step aside from the protection of our screens and really feel what’s going on, we’ll be unstoppable in making systemic change when it finally ends.

This column was a rollercoaster. Sorry. But we’re living in a weird time and I’ve struggled to articulate how I’m feeling for days. It’s not great but I know it will get better. It has to get better. Because, if this is the future, we shouldn’t want it.

Ashton Weber is a sophomore with lots of opinions. She is majoring in econ and film, television and theatre with a JED minor. Making new friends is one of her favorite things, so feel free to contact her at [email protected] or @awebz01 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Ashton Weber

Ashton is a current Sophomore majoring in Economics and FTT, and minoring in the Gallivan Journalism Program. She is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, but now resides in Flaherty Hall. Feel free to contact her about anything... literally, anything. She is often bored.

Contact Ashton