The other day on Spanish public television I was pleasantly surprised to see that jewel of a film Goodbye, Lenin! (2003) - but it also surprised me by filling me with a good dose of nostalgia that made me reconsider the society in which we live today. We are not in 1989. This is not the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The Berlin wall is not about to fall. And no, we don't live in a socialist country. We are in 2013. This is Spain. The economic crisis is the term on everyone's lips. We live in a capitalist country full of corruption and young people who are well-off.
How many of us would be able to live in 1989 for a week? Let's be honest - with no cell phones, no internet, only us and the world - could we manage it? I posed the same question on my facebook page after seeing the film and the response was totally satisfactory with respect to what I believed from the beginning: almost no-one would be able to.
I'm from the eighties generation, one of those kids who went through the EGB, the old system of primary school education in Spain. I am a non-digital native, who ate snacks while watching one of the only television channels that existed, who inherited clothes from an older sibling, who didn't own a video game console, who knew that if we couldn't afford it, we couldn't afford it, full stop. I'm from the generation which received that upbringing and those values that our parents instilled in us with such skill and loving care, that seem to have disappeared as if by magic nowadays. What has happened to all of the people of my generation? Just like the heroin addicts in my hometown when I was growing up, they also have an addiction - but to technology.
We have arrived at a point where absence prevails over presence, writing over speech, and video over words. In a society in crisis where having the latest model of a phone is the norm, anyone who doesn't have one is a weirdo. I don't have one, perhaps because I don't have a job nor a salary to buy one, or simply because I don't want to end up with my eyes, nose, and fingers stuck to a piece of plastic while I suffer withdrawals when my battery is dead or when I forget it at home.
Now people prefer absence over presence. It doesn't matter if they meet up with someone to chat and have a drink. They arrive, they sit down, leave the cellphone on top of the table and start to send whatsapps every two seconds. They forget to hold a conversation the old-fashioned way - remember what that was? - while they ignore and disregard the person that is in front of them who, on top of it, is giving them a few minutes of their valuable time. And why do they ignore them? Because they prefer to “talk” with someone who is not with them at that moment. Why? They don't know. And good manners? They don't know them either. They have disappeared along with the person they were with.
People also prefer writing over speaking - though not writing long letters to friends, lovers, or relatives, but rather writing – and poorly – on instant messaging services such as whatsapp, or facebook. Writing is another value that has been lost. Remember the efforts of our parents and teachers to teach us the rules of spelling and grammar? And those dictation tests that they made us do in school on Friday mornings? What was the point of all that effort if we don't apply it in daily life? We have gotten to the point where, just as Nietzsche said, there has been a transmutation of values, where what is wrong is accepted as the norm and what is right is rejected.
Of course, people also prefer video over words. Whenever there is a group of friends gathered together, there always has to be one person, if not everyone, who gets out his wonderful mobile phone and shows the latest and most-viewed video on the internet. Remember what it was to hold a conversation on any topic, be it about what concerns young people today, about the European economy or about whether french fries taste better with ketchup or mustard? The topic doesn't matter - what's important is interpersonal communication, but it should be 'analogue' communication from mouth to ear, not 'digital' communication from fingertip to phone.
Nowadays we have technology that makes our lives easier, but the problem is that we don't know how to use it in moderation, and so it becomes an addiction. This is why I have nostalgia for the eighties and nineties, nostalgia for the simple and technology-free life that we led. A life with values in which true social relations existed because people had good manners, and demonstrating that you had them was something positive. But those ways have been lost, maybe forever. Send a whatsapp to your friend, and see what he says. Although I might not be here when he or she answers you. Setting aside our smartphones and enjoying the company of others in the real world is one solution to our problem.