What happened to my physical world? My study room was full of the things I love. Records with their scratchy sound, followed by CDs that I could stack in towers of musical categorisation. I had photos on the wall and in albums that reflect my life. My walls were lined with dog-eared and well-worn pages from thumbing through moments of insight, inspiration and captivating narratives… All this made me happy
Now, my physical world has been stolen. It’s been taken away from me. No longer can I hold the physical things precious to me. I still have access to them but, I don’t really own them. Something strange has happened. The world seemed to change overnight and now, none of these things are tangible. I can’t hold anything with my clumsy and sweaty hands. I can’t wipe the dust off old photos or carefully place a needle in motion on a spinning record. I no longer count the dollar bills in my wallet before physically handing them over for a new purchase. Instead, I swipe arbitrary plastic before I’m allowed to take my goods… My kinesthetic world has gone.
Even physical location has become arbitrary as ‘Digital Nomads’, living location independent lifestyles, continue to flood the freelancing landscape as they reject the physicality of brick and mortar… What next?
I don’t own records anymore, I stream music. I don’t have my photos in albums as they’re now on the ‘cloud’. Instead of touching old faces behind glossy plastic, I now click through them, glazed-eyed in front of my computer. I no longer enjoy the scrape and smell of paper and ink when turning a crisp page in anticipation for what the next chapter holds. I can’t fold the corner of my page before retiring a book on a bedside table. I now have my Kindle which syncs what I’m reading and where I’m up to. I lie in bed and swipe through pages in a non-eventful, non-emotive fashion as if I’m waving away an annoying fly.
The human race has experienced incredible advances in technology, however, never have things that were once tangible become intangible. Now, physical objects are being converted to zeros and ones and stored on remote servers to be accessed anywhere and by anyone. What does ownership even mean now? Yes, I can subscribe to access music collections that are far more vast than my own but what does that really mean? What does an arbitrary playlist of digital files say about me as a person? If I have access to the entire world’s music then how do I express my taste in music anymore? What collections do I have to show friends when they visit?… I have nothing to share. Nothing for friends to hold, to reflect over, to laugh and bond over a glass of wine.
So, what’s next? What tangible, physical things will soon become digital? It’s strange you know… Quantum physics is teaching us that what we perceive to be our physical world is anything but and, at the same time, things that were once tangible are also vanishing. We now understand that everything ‘solid’ is in fact made up of spinning atoms and molecules so, maybe it makes sense that our lives become digital? It’s just interesting that as we discover more about the universe and the impermanence of our ‘physical’ world, our physical things also seem to be dematerialising!
What does the future hold for a physical world? What will human existence look like in 1000 years? Perhaps, archaeologists won’t dig through dusty rocks for signs of civilisation but instead, they’ll scan ancient servers for digital data that tells them how we lived. They’ll review back-ups that tell them about the first time where ‘real’ things became ‘unreal’ and the world changed.
So, if this is the way of the future and, as science shows us, our physical world isn’t physical at all then, maybe we need to let go of our physical attachment to ‘things’. Maybe, we need to evolve beyond basic possession and ownership and embrace the collective consciousness of internet streaming and instead become sentimental about what we have stored in ‘the cloud’. We need to accept that data now represents physical objects and these solid things are slowly becoming redundant. Maybe, this era is about a collective shifting of mindset. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, all that is physical deteriorates anyway… So let’s not get attached.
But what happens to digital data? Does it also succumb to the cycle of life and death or is it in fact, eternal? Where will my digital photos be in 200 years? How do I pass them on to my children? How do I protect my memories from decay if they’re no longer part of the physical world?
Despite our feelings on this shift or our reluctance to change, it is the way of the new world. However, I’ll still be hanging on to my sentimental possessions and surrounding myself with the things I love and like to touch until either I or them turn to dust.