I am trying to move down the narrow aisle of the plane with my carry-on luggage, feeling stressed and irritable. I want to unload my bad onto the overhead bin and get in my seat, but am delayed because the girl in front of me is texting with one hand and maneuvering her luggage with the other. She apparently is unable to put down her phone for even two minutes to do what she needs to do so that the rest of us can get on our way.
I am sitting in a trendy downtown cafe in Ho Chi Minh City. A young mother walks in with her daughter and a friend. The daughter is around 10-years-old and like most young kids with yuppie parents, she has her new tablet computer under her arm. They grab a table and sit down. The daughter is thoroughly engrossed in the show she is watching on her tablet. She sits facing away from her mother and for the next 60 minutes, speaks not more than a handful of words to them. The mother is unconcerned.
A mother and teenage daughter sit down next to me in a restaurant in Lima, Peru. The daughter has a disinterested, aloof expression, tinged with a look of disgust, common with teenagers. They are not speaking. The daughter holds her smartphone up to her nose, texting furiously. The mother has a resigned expression. I sense that what I am witnessing is almost a daily ritual. They do not speak. When the breakfast arrives, the daughter holds the fork in her right hand, shoveling the food into her mouth so that she can continue texting. She wants nothing to do with her mother. When they finally leave, I notice they only thing they have said the entire meal is “Let’s go now.”
A few minutes later as I leave, I notice a father sitting with his two kids. The older one is a girl in her early teens. She has her trendy , sporty new smartphone and is texting her friends. The younger boy is playing video games on his. The father stares vacantly and despondently into space, acknowledging that he has lost his kids.
A young girl in Australia smashes into a bicyclist with her car. She had been texting and didn’t see the young man whose spine she just smashed.
My teenage students arrive one by one into the classroom. They do not acknowledge each other, but simply take their seats and surf the net on their phones, tablets or laptops until the class begins. Some of them cannot resist glancing at their phone periodically during class, until I physically take it from them.
At break time, many of them run to the computer lab to get online to access facebook or play computer games, even though the break is only five minutes and I have explicitly told them not to go to the lab as they will lost track of time.
I walk down the busy city sidewalk. Walking directly toward me from the opposite direction is a young man who is texting. Oblivious to all other sensory data, he nearly crashes into me, glancing up only for a millisecond before resuming his journey onward, nose to phone.
I sit at the sushi bar with my girlfriend. To our left and right sit four single women. Each one has a Iphone or computer in their lap and is busy texting with left thumb, while eating with the right hand.
A young couple sits down at a restaurant for dinner. They sit facing each other. Each immediately takes out their iphone from their pocket and begins checking their FB. For the next hour, they will speak only a few words, such as “This place is ok.” And, “You ready to go?”
A young woman sits next to me on a bus which will travel from Lima to Chiclayo on the north coast of Peru. The trip is eight hours. She falls into the seat and immediately opens her laptop. For the next 8 hours, she will do nothing except chat on facebook with her friends. She has no interest in what the man next to her is doing in her country. She could care less.
I am having lunch at a restaurant. A group of tables has been set up to accommodate a large group. They come in, one by one. It is obvious they all work together at a company. As each sits, they take out their phone and begin surfing. A few minutes later, there are approximately 20 people at the table, and though it is clear they are celebrating the completion of some project, you can hear a pin drop, as there is no conversation taking place.
A story appeared recently about a man who boarded a bus in San Francisco. He had a gun. He robbed someone. Nobody paid him any mind, as they were all busy with their electronic gadgets and didn’t even notice him.
I am having a coffee at one of my favorite cafes. I grab a random magazine from the rack to glance at while I drink my iced coffee. The magazine is filled with advertisements for new smartphones, tablets and HDTVs. The few pages that are not advertisements are glowing reviews of said products, with titles such as “Which smartphone is right for you?” The entire magazine is basically an advertisement for our great electronic future.
The stories above are all true, and I could easily list hundreds more. They are just a random selection from my memory. Humanity, we have a problem. Although most people are still not yet familiar with the term Transhumanism, nevertheless we are well on our way to the dystopian future envisaged by men such as Ray Kurzweil. Although the technocrats themselves do not see this future vision as dystopian, it will surely be the end of the human race as we have known it.
I am part of the last generation to have grown up without computers and cell phones. Ask most people over the age of 45 if they would accept being implanted with a microchip, and they will scream, “Bloody hell, no!” But for the younger generations coming up now, it is a different story. They have been so softened up by the gadgets and toys which are so integral a part of their life, that getting a chip implant will seem to them like a logical next step. Google glass and the smart wristwatches that are now being marketed is the next phase.
I have always had deep reservations about technology and so-called ‘progress.’ During my 20s, I searched for some intellectual underpinnings for the wariness and discomfort I was experiencing as the computer revolution took hold. I found the academic rigor I was looking for in the writings of authors such as Kirkpatrick Sale, Jerry Mander, Neil Postman, John Zerzan, and Derrick Jensen.
Of these writers, Neil Postman (1931-2003) is probably the most accessible and readable. He wrote for the mass market, and his books are wonders of lucidity, insight, and clarity. He was able to look back over the whole course of human history to show how our present societal upheavals with computer technology resonates with prior upheavals. (See: the printing press.)
John Zerzan is unknown outside of a small circle of intellectuals and anarchist thinkers, which is unfortunate . His books, including Running on Emptiness and Against Civilization are well worth reading, if you can find them. Zerzan is maybe the foremost proponent of a school of thought called ‘anarcho-primitivism.’
As we hurtle pell-mell into the future, I yearn for that national (or global) dialogue which has never taken place, and which absolutely needs to take place. That is, a discussion on “Where are we going?” And, “Is this really the future that we want?” Furthermore, “Is what we are gaining more worthwhile than what we are losing?”
The classic movie “The Gods Must be Crazy” (1980) was a comedic film with a deep philosophical and sociological message. In the film, a tribe of Bushmen in Botswana is thrown into turmoil when they recover a coke bottle thrown from an airplane. This new ‘technology’ at first proves very useful and practical for them. Yet very quickly, the tribe is grappling with new issues such as possessiveness, envy, anger, selfishness and violence. The tribal elder is at last confronted with his duty and task: take the ‘evil thing’ and throw it off the end of the earth. The tribe concludes, correctly, that this seemingly beautiful and useful thing has an evil side which outweighs whatever benefits it bestows. Our problem is that we have a tribe of 7 billion, and we have no ways of throwing our toys back at the gods, or off the edge of the earth. And unlike that small band of Bushmen, we have not even sat down to talk about the matter. Until we do, we will be weaned away from our humanity, and led obliviously toward our cyborg future. The gods really must be crazy.