As regular readers know, much of my writing circles around the awesomeness of being connected, like being able to work from anywhere and get access to all kinds of cool people and information – and the looming recognition- that being connected all the time warps our daily life into something which is characterized by being constantly distracted, suffering from ultra-short attention span, and when subjected to closer scrutiny isn’t really all that desirable. Or is it?
Now, there are tons of blogs out there that talk about “time-management”, “productivity”, the need for “deep thinking” etc. and while much of what they say cannot be denied, there is a problem with these simplistic approaches, perfectly depicted in the below comic:
from the awesome xkcd webcomic
Romanticizing about a Non-Mediated Past
While the above comic seems to be a somewhat harsh critique of the productivity blogger’s cliché, beyond the snark, there is the insight that a) people tend to have far less integrity and will-power than they think they have (and that they’re just “scratching their own itch”) and b) there’s simply a great “market” for writing about productivity in times of distraction because everybody’s suffering from it.
Beyond that, we’re overtaken by a new sense of nostalgia.
William Gibson once said in an interview:
All of the questions we used to ask about cyberspace are now more rewardingly asked about ‘non-mediated experience’ – those increasingly rare moments when we disconnect from all media. The digital is now the rule, while the non-mediated becomes ever more the exception.
It makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
If you look at the soaring popularity of blogs like “How to Be A Retronaut” (which I totally love, by the way) you’ll find that most if not all of its content or stories stem from a non-mediated time.
And while people are flocking to attend Apple’s product launches which have turned into mythical events of “unveiling the future” – at the same time, we feel locked in all of modern technology’s wonders and dream of distant pasts where the future was still comfortably far away enough so that we could dream about it. While nowadays, the present is haunted by a future which has “already arrived”, creating the sense that we’re losing the ground beneath our feet.
“We’re approaching a condition in which non-cyberspace, for most of us, will have the higher novelty factor.”
And where we have become accustomed to talks about politicians talking about troubled youths with “no future” we may in fact be the first generation of human beings who have “no present”. The future is not the problem. Neither is the past. We are carrying the latter in the sleek but primitive, beta, but always upgraded devices and storage spaces of the former.
The Point of No Return
Now, as you can imagine. There’s no way of going back. Realizing this will just make it easier to “face the music”, as it were.
On the one hand we have people eagerly flocking into Eastern meditation techniques or trying to beat their lives into submission of fridge-magnet slogans à la “living in the moment” – trying to reclaim a non-mediated space of being – whether in the form of Yoga lessons or silent retreats.
On the other hand we have those who are “jacked in” at all times, the twilight beings who maintain day jobs only in order to support their nightly virtual raids and glories in MMPORGs like World of Warcraft.
The somewhat ironic truth about the two, is that they’re both living out the exact same struggle.
Where one tries to get out of the mediated world, the other one tries to escape from the non-mediated.
But they’re both sides of the same coin, it seems. The coin being an increasingly confusing sense of reality that we’re all trying not to fall out of altogether!
But the watershed between the real and the virtual has been crossed many years ago.
If you fancy metaphors, it’s like the portal to the Netherworlds has been opened. And it can never be closed again.
Put more descriptively, the average human being today on the planet is living out his existence in a constant state of liminality, that is – a sense of being “on the edge“, of neither being fully “in the moment”, nor being fully “somewhere else”.
Early morning: A person in England on the bus. Chatting to his girlfriend in a timezone where it is night, both listening to the same song on their iPhones (which are secretly keeping track of their location).
A wife is talking to her husband about evening plans. He nods. Barely registers her words. Face in front of screen. His attention wrapped up in a last-minute auction of Korean collectables on Ebay.
Someone, somewhere – reading this blogpost… where turning off is just a temporary interruption of the “always on”.
Have we become trapped in virtual reality?
Or has it already silently shoved out the “real” reality while we were busy checking our emails?