Technology and its impact on people isn’t a theme of my first novel, Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees, as the protagonist, Silvia is a Luddite who prefers “vinyl records to CD’s, print books to e-books, and paintbrushes and canvas to a computer.” Although a restless spirit, she is able to fully experience real life. Her brother, Cosmo, is quite the opposite.
Discovery of an Eagle is his story, and in it, he deals with the impact of his over-reliance on technology. At the start of this road trip story, he are almost hit by a Mack truck and this near death experience opens his eyes to the importance of living life to the fullest. He realizes that his office job, where he spends all day in front of a computer, coupled with his virtual life outside of work, is keeping him from living and experiencing real life. As he stares out at the Blue Ridge Mountains, he notices that his eyes don’t burn for the first time in years, as he hasn’t been staring at a computer screen for the past couple days. While this feels refreshing, it almost feels unnatural.
Around mid-way through the journey, a man named Crazy Ted reaches out to shake his hand and initially, Cosmo doesn’t know how to react. “It wasn’t something that was usual in his social circles, which consisted mostly of gamers and geeks who only conversed with each other in a virtual way.” Cosmo isn’t so different from many people today who are losing their social skills and their ability to connect with others, unless connecting through social media. As a result of the pervasive lack of connection in our world resulting from an over use of technology, so many people are isolated and depressed. While it is never stated in the novel that Cosmo is depressed, it is clear that he hasn’t been happy in years.
Towards the end of the journey, he is offered a promotion at the job at which he was laid off in the beginning of the novel. Before the journey, he would have happily and instantly accepted such an offer, but now he contemplates this offer with doubt and sadness as he imagines the reality of this new job. “He’d have his own windowless office, big enough for him and a small desk. It would be private, so he wouldn’t have to be sneaky about playing video games on his computer.”
He struggles with this decision. While one part of him feels he’d be foolish to decline the offer, a greater part of him knows that this new job will not bring him happiness. This trip opened his eyes in ways he’d never anticipated. Once his eyes are open, he clearly sees the limitations of virtual life and sees that it can never hold a candle to the richness and beauty of real life.