“The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes,” Goethe said. After going online this morning, I have seen what is right in front of my eyes, and I rather I hadn’t.
Have I been asleep, blind, or both? How else to explain my previous failure to perceive the proliferation of creatures that are half-human, half-machines?
Compensating childhood memories return of John Glenn fully clad in his Mercury spacesuit armor, almost indistinguishable from his cockpit, seamlessly part of his spectacular shiny vessel. The Age of Heroes. Now, cyberspace is being expanded, penetrated and poked at by anyone.
And anyone is everywhere. I am surrounded by people attached to machines, and vice-versa. Having no handheld telecommunications device, I experience a post-modern solitude, alone in the midst of people using their devices. I see them, but they do not see me: their minds are elsewhere. They are each in a different place, distinct time zone, far from the here and now which keeps me company.
I see that individuals are not, as they suppose, using technology, but are themselves appendages of technology, consumers in the process of being consumed, hunters captured by the game.
When I see a post-human clutching a cellular device, or aglow before a computer screen, I instantly imagine the person vanishing into the device head-first, their legs wriggling helplessly as from the jaws of a lion.
People talk about the “singularity” – a post-human future convergence where man and machine morph into one. But that moment has arrived, and the post-humans with it.
Thinking of Mr. Goethe, I am reminded of his play, Dr. Faust. The tragedy tells the story of the eponymous scholar and magician who enters into a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for boundless worldly knowledge and limitless personal experiences.
Sounds like the Internet, doesn’t it? Offering an endless supply of information, services and ways to communicate with fellow post-humans? Like the Devil, the spiders on this vast web prey on our human foibles: our curiosity, desire for gossip and titillation, our voyeuristic tendencies. It offers, if one so desires, a Faust-like omniscience plus a diabolical cloak of anonymity in which we can become anyone, or say anything with no concern – much less responsibility – for our consequences.
Online, we feel unusually free. Yet we are slaves. Our horizons are delimited by algorithms that tailor what we see according to our past behavior. The Internet user feels he is on a mountaintop, the world his to survey, but is instead on a treadmill of feedback loops. Even without the NSA getting involved, every time we log on we sacrifice our privacy, rending us prized data for marketers.
The statistics on Internet usage are startling. American spend five hours, nine minutes on the Internet each day, in addition to four hours, 31 minutes watching television; add it up and the average media diet equals 147 24-hour days, more than a third of your year. I’m reminded of the French expression, “It’s one thing to go into a whorehouse; it’s another thing to never come out of it.”
Each time we use the Internet, we sacrifice our time, our perception, our senses, ourselves. Since 80% of human communication is non-verbal, we become fractions of our social selves. In the Internet we have migrated to a sensory deprivation chamber: a zone where we are stripped of physicality, the human touch, voice and gaze, fragrance, dimensions, weather, spontaneous dialogue.
And what of boredom? And the dreams and insights that follow? It is often overlooked that both Dr. Faust and the Devil lost – and won – in the bargain. Attention and awareness – and even their gauzy gaps and spongy pauses – are the soul of our relationships and personal development: the sunshine that brings us to life.
For those who seek a respite from media saturation, the ultimate antidote is the garden. In your yard is a realm of beauty, color, fragrance, a panoply of forms, dimension, authenticity, and truth. The gardener is attuned to the life of plants, the seasons, sunlight, the earth, weather, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. In creating and nurturing a garden, you can see (and taste) the results of your efforts. The garden is a place to connect with nature, ourselves and each other: the ultimate social network – vividly and easily there right in front of your eyes.