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Opinion by Christa Kraft

The girl next to me laughs loudly, snapping me out of my trance. She is oblivious to me, crowned with headphones and typing madly. I wonder what she was laughing at as my eyes sweep the room’s rows of computers, suntanned students concentrating intensely as they type papers, talk to friends online, listen to music, read different languages, and complete hundreds of different daily assignments.

The computer lab, probably the most frequented building on any college campus, is an early version of a teleporter. It is always library-quiet, partly from politeness, but partly also because no one is actually in the computer lab.

People are there, but not there. When students sit down at a computer, they exit the physical world and enter the cyber world. As they become more engaged in their computer work, they become increasingly unaware of their actual surroundings.

Once in-the-flesh, person-to-person communication is eliminated, everything turns cyber, abstract, theoretical. As people become more accustomed to using a computer to communicate, the significance of the tangible and importance of the five senses diminishes.

Consider how many people on any day in Hawai‘i alone will ignore all the people around them as they walk into an Internet café or computer lab and log on to match.com, myspace.com, or some other online friend or dating community?

How many of these people will go online to talk to people scattered across the globe, but ignore the people in the closest proximity to them? Someone could be on match.com talking to their girlfriend in Japan, with three equally compatible people sitting around them doing the same thing. None will notice the others because all are preoccupied with their online life.

But this is part of the glory of computers and the World Wide Web, you say. Our knowledge is expanded; we have more options; we are more global.

Maybe so, but what use is it to be able to think globally if we forget to live locally? Most people would probably say they use the cyber world to communicate and stay connected. It is important to people that they be able to talk to friends and family no matter the location of either party. We are now able to communicate with anyone in the world, anywhere in the world, in mere moments. We can instant message or e-mail. We can make mobile calls or text message. People everywhere are communicating more--or is it less?

Far more romantic seem the times when letters were reread and cherished instead of clicked away to the recycle bin. A message seems more valuable after it has traveled all that distance. People worked at creating flowery songs of love in delicate cursive instead of a cold text message vibrating “I luv u.”

The question begs to be asked, how long will it be until a computer, cell phone, or iPod can engage someone’s mind and body equally in both real and cyber space? Our minds no longer have to follow our bodies, but vice versa.

We can go online and transport our brain to the outer stretches of the earth. But our bodies are becoming shells we leave behind.

Will we soon be able to be in literally two places at one time? What does that do to the concept of time? Will the cyber world eventually become more important than the real one? Are we destined to become a nation of computer screens staring at blinking people?



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