Friday 10 July 2015

Virtual vs Actual

photo collage C. Ascher

I’m thinking that in this world of ‘selfies’ and minutiae, the focus seems to have shifted from our actual accomplishments to our texts and photos about our daily activities, our fantasies and to our ‘brand’. The ease and speed of recording, and the sheer volume of postings makes it imperative that we keep a ‘presence’ on the web, even if that presence is illusory, banal and in the end, only as noticeable as the number of hits it can amass.
Recording anything that moves, sharing, liking, linking, re-posting, hash-tagging, Blogging and other fun, easy, quick activities take up our attention, energy and give us the impression that we’re being creative and communicative without demanding undue effort on anybody's part. After all, it’s gotta be quick, it’s gotta be catchy and it’s gotta be accessible to millions!
It’s addictive; technology has allowed us to feel like magicians who can conjure up popularity, fame and hopefully fortune from the comfort of our electronic devices. At the very least we can amass ‘friends’ the world over without ever having to really deal with them as flesh and blood. We were primed for it by television, by all those weekly series and talking heads; and, just as we could change the channel at will, we can befriend and un-friend with a tap of a finger. If that isn’t magic…
Other than cautioning us to be careful and consider our choices, perhaps their actual aim, movies like Blade Runner, The Matrix and Artificial Intelligence have shown us an attainable goal. “I can do that!” cry the technophiles and inventors who are no longer under the calming, humanizing influence of Mr. Spock and the Star Trek world. All they see are the nifty gadgets created for the movies, the neat special effects, and in true nuts and bolts fashion, they set out to figure out how to realize them, how to outdo them, how to beat each other to the stock market rush.
Now we’re entering a new phase of technological ingenuity. Inventors are having paroxysms of pleasure figuring out how to make ‘smart’ devices. It’s not enough that we’re monitored on every street corner and that it’s open season on our every public act, we are now being scrutinized by our personal, effort-saving appliances. From our cars to our watches, from our coffee machines to our beds, our very bathroom mirrors, we are being watched, recorded, analyzed, computed, data about us is being amassed and broadcast to... whom? All this so that more devices can be created to target us, enhancing our belief that we are important: to those selling the devices we willingly offered up our privacy as sacrifice for that illusion.
Pretty soon, we won’t know we’re alive unless a gadget tells us so.
So was The Matrix really all that shocking? Living life in a womb-like pod, free of those annoying bodily functions, our every physical need provided via an umbilical-like tube while we live ‘in the cloud’ – hey, forget the mystery, we’ve created Heaven!  It must sound very appealing to those inventors. That is, unless they plan to keep themselves ‘off-line’ so that they can continue inventing and improving our lives?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for keeping those inventive hands and heads busy, and I do thank them that I get to ‘delete’ instead fussing with whiteout. By my very compliance, I share in the optimism created by the technology. But I also don’t want to get rid of my SLR camera, recycle my books, put my typewriter in a museum, just look longingly at my vinyl records, explain to kids what a postage stamp is (soon what a handshake is), give up the steering wheel when I drive, be plugged in and online at every second of the day, as if these things really are ‘ecological’ and ‘planet-saving’ in a world with billions of humans and more coming.
I don’t want to replace everything I worked hard to get for everything I’m supposed to want.
It’s not the inventors anyway, not their fault that everything still useful and appreciated is thrown out with the bathwater. It’s the industrialists. I just wish that when manufacturing gets a hold of new inventions, they don’t re-purpose every single factory and re-program every single assembly line and get rid of most of their human hands and minds except for the product marketers. But they are prey to or slaves of ‘the economy’ or ‘the marketplace’ or even ‘the stock market’, which get their grubby, greedy hands on everything.
I wish they didn’t eliminate every invention that came before, or make it so marginal that I have to be rich to indulge my ‘caprice’. I know how to use a pencil and paper, I don’t NEED a stylus and a screen, or a bank of public-access images. But how long will it be before some genius behind a sales counter in an ‘art store’ will look at me like I’m some kind of archeologist looking for an artifact if I ask for paint in tubes or bags of clay?
 I just wish that, with my privacy, I didn’t also have to give up my choice. I don’t want to be driven underground or be pushed aside because I don’t want ever new machines to ‘facilitate’ (or direct) all aspects of my life. As the movies warn, androids or mega-machines will perhaps inherit the earth; I just isn we didn't make it so speedily easy for them to do so. Not all of us want virtual lives; some of us LIKE actual living. 

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