When I was a child, Saturday was my favorite day of the week. On Saturday, all of the networks ran cartoons from early morning until noon. All morning, I would veg out while watching my favorite shows, with occasional breaks to bounce around the room pretending I was some superhero.
One day I was strolling along the shore of one of the Great Lakes with my father and my Grandfather. Somehow I must have brought up the subject of Saturday morning cartoons. My dad told me that when he was a kid, they did not have televisions. My Grandfather took it one step farther, stating that when he was my age, they did not even have radios. I thought about this for a moment, then I turned to my Grandfather and asked, "What did you do on Cartoon Day?"
My Grandfather was born right after the turn of the century, at the beginning of the technological explosion that was the Twentieth Century. When he was a child, they had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no phone. He lived on a farm where they produced almost everything they needed, or they went without. There were no superstores, no convenience stores, and no strip malls. Every few weeks they went to town for supplies. Otherwise, they made do with what they had.
If they wanted to go somewhere, they walked. Or they hitched up the horse to the wagon. If they needed to travel more than 20 miles, they boarded a train. For the most part, however, everything they needed could be found at home, or within a five mile radius.
For entertainment, they visited with neighbors and relatives. They socialized. They practiced the nearly lost art of story telling. They read the newspaper for both information and entertainment. Books were cherished, and were read and reread, and passed along to be shared. A trip to the library was like a visit to a candy shop.
If they wanted to listen to music, they played an instrument, whistled, and sang. Or they visited with someone who did these things. Music was a live phenomenon, generally associated with dancing and socializing. The first recorded music was a novelty that did not compare to live music, due to the poor recording quality.
They discussed the events of the day, and they planned together to meet all contingencies. They lived in the moment. The reality of their day was the reality of their immediate environment, from which they derived all of their sensory input and most of their information.
For the most part, people were content. They were used to the discomforts and hardships of daily life, and they took solace in the quality of life they provided for themselves. They took pride in their work, and they found fulfillment not only in what they did, but in what they shared with others.
Within three generations, all of this had changed. By the time I was born, we were living in an artificial world where everything was canned, even our view of reality. The informed and capable population had been transformed into consumers. Reality had become the stores we shopped at, the products we purchased, and the mass media entertainment which kept us distracted. Work had become the meaningless production of widgets, the juggling of accompanying data, or the service of selling those widgets to other consumers. Our social life consisted of shopping, going to the movies, or visiting some amusement park. Our physical reality was bounded by the confines of our car, our home, and our office or factory. We had traded fulfillment and sufficiency for comfort and convenience.
Isolation & Artifice
I did not get my driver's license until I was eighteen. I never liked cars the way many boys did, and I avoided being assimilated by contemporary society as much as possible. When I finally did get my driver's license, it was because of necessity. I could not work and go to college otherwise.
When I started driving, one of my first observations was how confining cars are. Previously I had walked, bicycled or hitchhiked wherever I needed to go. In doing so, I interacted much more directly with the environment around me. I talked to neighbors and friends, I traveled through woods and fields, and through less traveled byways. All my travels were adventures where I explored the world around me, made new friends and visited with old friends.
From a speeding car, the world I had known intimately sped by outside my windows. I was divorced from it even as I sped through it. I was isolated in the artificial environment of my car interior. My travel was confined to the roads built for automotive travel, especially the highways, interstates, and other major roads. The other people I encountered were no longer interesting interactions, but merely obstacles that got in my way and that fought with me for supremacy on the road. The easy going days of wandering were replaced by the frenzied rush to get where I was going, and road rage.
The car had divorced me from the world around me and substituted a hostile and artificial environment in its place. The road took me only to commercial establishments where I could only socialize as a consumer.
In the late 1970s the first walkman appeared, and I began seeing people walking through the neighborhood, riding bikes and even driving cars with headphones on. I was struck by how cut off they were from the environment around them. Here they were walking through a neighborhood or hiking through a park, and a big part of their sensory input was something artificial and completely divorced from the reality around them. Someone could sneak up on them without them even hearing it. They were cut off and removed from the moment; they were not living in the moment, they were living in an abstraction.
Over the past century our lives and what we perceive as reality have increasingly become an abstraction. We no longer provide for ourselves. We buy everything we need prepackaged from stores. Most of us don't even know where the meat we eat came from. If we did, few of us would eat it. We have removed ourselves from the sacred act of obtaining food. Food has become a commodity, and the living things that provide it, be they plants or animals, have become things that we treat with complete disrespect.
We spend most of our lives in artificial environments, either in our cars, our place of business or our homes. All of our input there is artificial and abstracted. Recently, my family has moved into an apartment with central air. We kept the windows open and the fans on until it grew too hot to do so. The noise of the neighborhood was disturbing, but it tied us to the world around us. When we finally closed the windows, it was like living in a vacuum. The apartment was quiet and stifling. We finally compromised by keeping the windows open enough so that we could interact with the world outside, but not so much that they would completely compromise the air conditioner. We would not even turn the air conditioner on, but that would make it impossible to do anything in this apartment except swelter.
This gives me some clue as to why so many people must keep their television on even when they are not watching it. Their house is an artificial, closed environment, lacking the normal sensory input of a real environment. It is unnatural. And the television makes them feel like they are a part of something. It gives them the impression that they are interacting with the world around them. Of course, they are not interacting with anything. They are simply being subjected to mindless stimulation.
Studies have shown that our critical mind turns off as we watch television. We disengage and zone out. It is, in fact, the perfect frame of mind for indoctrination and brainwashing. And it is in this condition that we take in the vast majority of our sensory input, from which we build our view of reality. Our reality is dictated to us by news shows, talk shows, sitcoms and one hour dramas. Increasingly, the world we react to is the world created, edited and framed by Hollywood and the network studios. We draw our view of reality more from this artificial stimulus than from the neighborhood where we live.
Throw in video games, pop music, and the internet and our view of reality becomes increasing divorced from reality - divorced and perverted.
The internet is a very powerful tool. Without it neither I nor many other people would have a voice. It is one of the few avenues left for free communication, the distribution of information and news, and the promotion of critical thinking. Yet, when I hear people talk about internet communities, I have to shake my head. And when I find people on various forums who must spend much of their time reading and posting on the internet, I wonder if it has become a substitute for real social interaction.
It is great that we can use the internet to inform ourselves, and to communicate with others the whole world over. Yet most of this communication remains on the internet, and as such it is an innocuous outlet. Sure we are informed, but that does not do anything if the most we do with that information is to sign an online petition or email our Congressperson.
Though we are informed, we do nothing to change the direction in which the world is heading. Why? Because that would call for initiative and effort. That would require us to get up out of our chairs, leave our comfortable homes, communicate directly with other people, organize and take action. And all of our technology has bred us for comfort and convenience. Getting out of that chair and actually doing something requires too much effort. And besides, all of our media input tells us the world is a dangerous place and our efforts are bound to fail. You can't fight city hall, much less the corporations.
And the technology continues to advance. Now we have ipods and cell phones. Next it is a handheld unit that combines the ipod, the cell phone and the internet all rolled into one. Next will come a headband that incorporates all of the above and transmits the input directly to the brain. And finally there will be an implant.
Comfort & Convenience
I estimate that at least 90% of our technology consists of innovations in comfort and convenience. Perhaps all of it. Dish washers, clothes washers, vacuum cleaners, power saws, drill motors, heaters, air conditioners, refrigerators, the automobile, the telephone, the cell phone, television, computers, the internet, all of these can be classified as technological comforts, conveniences, or both.
Water always seeks its lowest level. And it is human nature to always look for the easiest way to do things. There is a temptation to say that it is all about the conservation of energy. Yet it takes more energy to run a dishwasher than it does to wash dishes by hand. And when you take into consideration the production of the dishwasher itself, it is more environmentally destructive. The same could be said of any other technology. What technology does is to displace the energy costs and the entropy costs of previously un automated chores. Yet it invariably does so at an added energy and entropy cost. Over time, these costs do add up, even when you have an abundant source of energy such as fossil fuels.
While each technological advance appears to make life a little easier, it also robs us of something, something intrinsic yet extremely valuable. Each comfort and convenience removes us farther from the real world and robs us of the achievement of coping with that real world. Each advance makes us more dependent on technology, and less inclined to do and think for ourselves. It diminishes our self-sufficiency, and in so doing erodes our freedom.
We become dependent upon technology and upon the system that provides it and the energy to run it. We forget how to do things for ourselves. At one time, people made their own soap. The first commercially available soap was a novelty. Then people found that it was easier to buy a bar of soap or a box of detergent than it was to make it themselves. Now very few people have a clue how to make their own soap. Purchasing soap has gone from a novelty to a necessity. And this same process occurs with every technological innovation, no matter how seemingly trivial.
Along the way, the public is transformed from self-sufficient, informed citizens capable of thinking and doing for themselves, into consumers led by the nose and driven by urges. We become weak, lazy and easily manipulated. We become a nation of obese, soft-headed cattle, addicted to technology, dependent upon the providers of that technology, and always hungry for the next innovation, and quick to turn it from a novelty into a necessity.
We have become technological gods, but we are quickly losing our ability to survive without our technology. Within the next few advances of technology, once chipping augments our ability to think then we will quickly devolve into technology-enhanced zombies. We will lose the ability to even think without the aid of technology, much less to survive. You may laugh and say this is farfetched, but it is not. The technology for inserting microchips into human beings already exists, along with plans to use this technology to monitor the public. And the technology that will allow microchipped computers to interface with the human brain is in the works. Considering the recent scramble to purchase iphones, consumers ought to be delirious over a brain implant that could do the same.
(As an aside, I am personally so removed from these new technologies that I had not heard of the iphone until just a couple months ago. And I had to look up the name of it for this article.)
Speculation on future technology aside, we are now so addicted to our technology and so lost without it that much of the population would not survive if they had to revert to a pre-technological lifestyle. Civilization would come crashing down if even a portion of our technology was to fail. In fact, our civilization would probably crumble if our technology simply became more expensive to support, or if energy depletion led to rationing, brown-outs and black-outs.
Recently the phenomenon of Bee Colony Collapse Disorder has been in the news. It has led to a lot of speculation and not a little hysteria. According to studies of apiaries (bee farmers), across the United States, nearly 50% of the bee hives failed between September of 2006 and March of 2007. In some places the rate of collapse was as high as 90%. And a similar failure has been noticed in wild bees. This is extremely important when you consider that almost everything that grows depends upon bees for pollination.
Until a few months ago, no one had any clue as to what was causing the collapses. There was speculation about pathogens, susceptibility to pesticides, some problem caused by genetically modified crops, and a swarm of other possibilities. Many people considered that cell phone towers might be a leading contender. The electromagnetic signals emitted by cell phone towers are known to disrupt the communication and navigation abilities of honeybees.
While the speculation was rife, I began asking people if they would part with their cell phones if it should turn out that they were the culprit behind Colony Collapse Disorder. While some people were troubled by the loss of pollinators, none of them made any indication that they would be willing to part with their cell phone.
Subsequent studies have eliminated cell phone towers as a suspect. It appears that there is a pathogen at work here, though a specific pathogen has not yet been identified. When fresh bees from Australia were introduced to a collapsed hive that had been left untouched, they also quickly failed. When the hive was first cleaned out but not completely disinfected, the bees had a very hard time of it. But when the hive had been thoroughly disinfected, the bees did well. These experiments are sufficient to conclude that the culprit is a pathogen.
So cell phones are off the hook. Yet the consuming public is not.
Had cell phone towers been the culprit, would we have torn them down, rather than risk the collapse of all agriculture? No way. The cell phone companies would have pointed to the massive financial losses they would have sustained, and they would have been backed up by millions of consumers whining to keep their cell phones.
There are many other problems associated with cell phones and cell phone towers, and it will be some time before we will know the full effects of massive cell phone use on the environment and on public health. So tell me, will you give up your cell phone? Would you give it up if it had been the culprit behind Colony Collapse Disorder? Be honest with yourself.
For my part, I will state that I have never owned a cell phone and have no intention to purchase one. My daughter has a cell phone which was given to her by her mom. And my wife has one that was given to her by my step-son, but she has not used it since it ran out of minutes months ago. I can see the convenience of owning a cell phone, but I have no desire to wear a phone on my belt. I like my privacy, and I don't much enjoy even talking on a land line.
Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that we are addicted to our technology. We would not freely give it up even if our lives were threatened by it. If our use of and access to technology is impinged even slightly, we will scream bloody murder. While we may talk big about the need for sustainability and a healthy environment, we would easily sacrifice the rest of the world to maintain our technological addiction, all for the sake of our comfort and convenience.
And our leaders know this. As Dick Cheney said, the American lifestyle is not up for debate. Since WWII, our foreign policy has revolved around a single point: making sure the US public - and US corporations - have first pick of the rest of the world's resources. Many, many people have been killed and tortured for our comforts and convenience, many movements for democracy, equality and social justice have been put down, and many governments that sought to address the concerns of their own citizens have been toppled. The result has been large scale environmental destruction, desperation, and terrorism, while our gluttony has quickly depleted the world's resources.
It is doubtful that we will change. It is extremely unlikely that we will wake up any time soon and choose to go cold turkey. Certainly, a few of us will do that. But most of us will not. Most of us will talk a good talk and mean well, and we will sit back and wait for a technological solution to the problems we face. But technology does not produce solutions. It only produces comforts and conveniences.
When those comforts and conveniences are impinged, we will scream bloody murder. We may even riot and hang a few gas station owners, shoot a few Arabs and drag a few Mexicans behind our cars. But we will not be revolting for change and responsibility, we will whining for our comforts and conveniences.
And we will line up at the stores to receive our implants, so that we can have our own personal interface with technology, and become thoroughly monitored and managed in a new corporate police state. And when our technology ultimately collapses, most of us will die from our inability to provide for ourselves. And the majority of those who are left will be little more than serfs, serving their corporate feudal lords.
We are a society of addicts. We have been addicted since birth. As such, we all fit the psychological profile of addicts; we are all subject to the dysfunction, the codependency and the denial of addiction. No wonder why everywhere you go, people behave the way they do. Our leaders know this. In fact, they depend upon it. No one is as easily controlled as an addict. Our corporations are all pushers, and our economy is a gigantic methadone program.
Wake up people, or resign yourselves!
Hello. My name is Dale, and I am a technology addict.
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