This has been on my mind for quite a while, and I’ve finally got round to formulating an opinion on it. Unless something changes in our collective thinking, unless something drastic occurs to really make us do something, I strongly believe that the human race is finished.
A drastic statement indeed, and one that needs to be explained. Clearly.
I’m not sure when it began exactly, though I think it was sometime in the 1980s. It was caused by a perfect storm; a unity of the two things that had long since proved themselves to be two of the most destructive things our species has ever encountered: Technology and greed. Technology has long since been our most beloved and destructive toy, but in the 1980s it reached a point where it ceased to be a beneficial accessory in our lives - things used to make work easier, things used to entertain us for a passing period – to becoming the thing we lived for. We finished work and marched diligently home to watch television or mind numbing movies. We hurriedly prostrated ourselves before glowing green computer screens. We ceased interacting with other humans and began to block them out by putting miniature speakers in our ears. We tossed out the entertainment and information to be gleaned from books that took time to read and started feeding our imaginations with other peoples pictures, our knowledge with other peoples words and opinions.
And our greed fuelled this insatiable drive for more. Our drive for more entertainment, more disposable garbage, more exotic foods, more pictures of other peoples lives to distract us from our own. We wanted more, more, more. And companies, corporations and conglomerates were more than happy to oblige us. With the advent of true twenty four hour television came the advent of true twenty four hour advertising. Shopping channels and infomercials ran round the clock, offering us every kind of unnecessary disposable product imaginable. We had encountered advertising in the decades prior, but now the medium had begun to hone its methods. And it had the perfect crowd to work on: The baby boomers.
The generation that grew up in families that had very little money or comforts. The generation that grew up in the bleak, dark penniless years that followed World War 2. They were the generation that were given chequing accounts and limitless lines of credit. They were the generation that had grown up with and were used to absorbing the advertising messages. They were the generation that had lived with the new medium of television, and invented computing. They were the generation that, in their maturity, wanted the lavish, constant excess that they never had in their youth. They wanted ease, convenience, accessibility, the opposite of what their formative years had been furnished by. They didn’t want to have to go out or to put in effort for entertainment, they wanted it wherever they were, whenever they were. They didn’t want to wait for a letter, or wait for you to get home to communicate with you, they wanted you on a mobile phone or a fax right now. If they didn’t have it, they wanted it. If you had it, they’d get one better than yours. ‘Gimme that it’s mine! Gimme that it’s mine! GIMME THAT IT’S MINE!’
And in that perfect storm developed the cancer that is eating away at our species today. From one moment to the next we sank deeper and deeper and deeper into social apathy. We developed mobile phones that could connect us wherever we were on the planet, replaced brief chats were with texting, face to face contact with webcams and video calling. Bluetooth activated our ovens before we got home so we wouldn’t need to do it ourselves. We exercised on electronic mattresses in our living rooms so we wouldn’t need to bother going for a run outdoors. Soon our all phones will make pancakes, play movies and scratch our balls for us so we won’t need to bother exerting any effort to do anything. Email replaced letters. Instant messaging replaced quick emails. IM and text speak replaced standard language. Quicker and quicker, shorter and shorter, faster and faster. ‘Send it in a minute, send it in a second, send it now, why haven’t you sent it already?’
And as things got faster and faster the effort needed to produce them grew less and less. The cognitive thinking, the mental gymnastics needed to read or write or think or engage with something, anything, anybody at any kind of length reduce itself by degrees, over and over, shorter and shorter until it became practically non-existent.
And it is here we find ourselves. We live our lives through the lives of others. Our dramas, our existences, our gossips, we subjugate them and instead take more interest in those that occur in the lives of celebrities and public figures. We don’t have to really analyse our own personalities, eccentricities and flaws, we can instead pick on and gossip about those that we see in the flavour of the month conveyor belt that is paraded before us on the endless loop by the “news” and entertainment industry.
Our ability – as a society – to analyse and interpret, to think cognitively, to engage with causes and purposes and thoughts larger than ourselves, has been worn down, reduced, and crushed. Our need to protest, to express ourselves, to form a discourse with our Government, our media and our employers seems to have vanished. We’re not interested in the rest of the species unless we are told to. Unless the 24 hour news channels, or the papers, or the three minute news bites that pop up in between shows we’re not really interested in watching tell us that we’re outraged at monks and civilians being slaughtered in Burma, we don’t bother to think about it. We just consume it and move on.
For corporations and governments, it’s great. They don’t want the majority of their population and workforce to be able to think critically, to engage and analyse why and how they’re being screwed over by them and their minions. We express indignation in the form of comments on news articles that tell us how our Members of Parliament are working to keep us from knowing how much we pay them. We snort and bitch and complain about being forced to bail out banks that took our money, sold it back to us at an inflated cost and have now taken more and are rewarding their own failure with it. Do we actually do anything? Do we protest like we used to? Do we march, do we strike, do we flood phone lines and switchboards like we did when we were told we were outraged because someone said ‘fuck’ on the radio? No. Most don’t care, those that do don’t know how to organise a fluid means of protest in the face of the media endorsed apathy.
Schools refuse to tell pupils that they’re stupid or intelligent, so everyone feels happily average, and they go on to enter their adult life thinking that way. As I.Q points dip slightly lower, the next generation of obedient workers are just smart enough to use the machines that they need to use to work, but not so smart that they’d ever realise how badly they’re being screwed over by their employers. And they’re certainly not left dumb enough so they couldn’t turn on their TV, log into their email, or switch on their phone in order to buy this, download that or subscribe to this. They, like us, will be willing and ready to spend money they don’t have on shit they don’t need. Money we don’t have on shit we don’t need.
And here we are then, left in a little corner of freedom in an internet being crushed under the weight of corporate interest. We’ve squandered our gift. We evolved the most magnificent organism in the history of any species: the human brain. A mind, a consciousness, an organ that allows us to think rationally and critically, that allows us to interact with each other with language and literature and art and intelligence. It allows us to look at the world, to see things wrong with it and ask why it is the way it is and what we can do to make it better. We look at the stars and wonder about what is out there and how we got here. We have a long history of public figures that were famous for invention, for talent, for creating beauty and making us think.
And we’ve been bought off. Nowadays, some of our heroes have talent. Most however, have only moderate amount, and are more famous for being famous, famous for being thin or a well dressed or an emotional train wreck. We are told we want to look like them, live like them and act like them. And so many of us go along with it.
I hope we can buck the trend. I hope more people will realise what it is they’re missing. That real beautiful conversation can be based on more than celebrities or sport. That beautiful art can be complicated and difficult, rather than instantly accessible and a constant feel good trip. That we are not servants to the politicians or corporations or media titans that we think rule us. They depend on us for their existence. Not the other way around. I hope more of us will realise that we are not the servants that so many of us have been conditioned into thinking we are.
But as it stands right now, we’re circling the drain. We started many years ago, but just like water going down the plughole, the circles keep getting smaller and smaller, shorter and shorter, quicker and quicker until…