I learned a new word this weekend: “technoschmerz.”
Let’s back up a second here. “Weltschmerz” (pronounced “velt-shmerts”), is a German noun that translates to “world pain,” and conveys a “deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of the world.”
Learning the truth about Santa Claus? Weltshmerz. Knowing that some people wake up hungry and go to sleep hungry, while others wallow in abundance? Weltschmerz. Realizing that our minds and bodies don’t always fail us at the same rate in old age? Weltschmerz.
Technoschmerz, then, is “a deep sadness about the inadequacy or imperfection of technology.” It’s when “we expect technology to do one thing, but then it does another, less satisfying thing,” writes author Kate Greene.
Spotty cell service, forgotten passwords, crashed hard drives, glitchy apps—all these are examples of technoschmerz, Greene says. Technology ostensibly connects us better and more efficiently, but it also has the potential to separate us: a friend who waits too long to respond to a text, irritation with dropped calls, politically divisive social media posts, algorithms that cheerfully remind us to send electronic birthday wishes to a loved one who has since died, influencer lifestyles that make us feel inadequate about our own.
As an early adopter of the voice dictation function on smart phones, I can deal with garbled texts, those pesky missives lost in translation. I accept the occasional internet outages, maddening though they are. I’m resigned to the fact that we no longer get to sit at a dinner party trying to remember the name of that actor, you know, that guy with the tattoos, who always plays a bad guy, who was in that movie, and also in that Netflix series, because someone inevitably pulls out a phone and three seconds later waves it around triumphantly shouting “Danny Trejo!”
No, for me, now, technoschmerz is simply this: the realization that using technology has altered my brain—and not in a good way—frequently overriding both rational thought and muscle memory.
As evidence I present you with this example from the other day. My kids showed me their new student ID cards, which, like a driver’s license, include a small photo of the owner. Holding one of the cards in my left hand, I tried to get a better look at the photo, and in the split second before I realized what I was doing, I found my right thumb and forefinger pinched together, contacting the photo (the hard copy photo, mind you) and expanding outward, as if I was trying to zoom in and enlarge the photo. Which I was— stubbornly, illogically, futilely.
Unsurprisingly, the photo didn’t expand. Neither, sadly, did my brain.