Riddle me this Batman: What do peanut allergies, a poor sense of direction, poor penmanship, social anxiety and accidentally falling over the rim of the Grand Canyon have in common?
Much more than you think…though allow me some explanation.
Human beings like to invent new stuff to make life easier on themselves. I am not talking the “stuff” of late night infomercials like self-cleaning mops or an ab exercise gadget; rather the kind of stuff we have invented throughout human history that make our lives more manageable and, in many case, enjoyable. Don’t think the “As Seen on TV!” stuff like the “Ped-Egg” -think more general inventions like the wheel, language, penicillin or the map.
Our inventions, or new technologies, can be divided up into four general types (I thank Nicholas Carr, in part, for this) with many inventions blurring the distinction of each category with some crossover. The first type of invention involves increasing and extending the human’s physical strength –the plow, the darning needle, the car, the gun, fighter jets- as all of these serve to do far more good (or damage) than a human alone could do. These inventions assist us in gaining physical dominance over our environment and better control over what happens around us.
The second type of invention involves extending the human’s five senses -for example, the microscope, the amplifier, binoculars, or hearing aids. I suppose these could be called the “superhuman” category as each allows us to perform tasks that our natural five senses alone could never perform at the assisted level.
The third category concerns itself with serving our personal needs and desires, like the invention of the knife and fork, birth control, Viagra (not that I would know anything about that) or genetically modified foods. Of course the automobile, for example, was invented to help us serve our personal needs as well, yet its more dominant characteristic is a quantum leap in travel technology…helping us to gain more control over the restraints of our physical lives.
Lastly, the fourth set of technologies include extending our intellectual abilities –from the rudimentary abacus, to the clock, the printing press, the typewriter and the computer just to name a few of millions. These inventions are used for the purpose of extending our cognitive mental abilities, to better perform tasks, measure theories and ideas, and memorize important data. In contemporary society, perhaps our cell phone is the single most quantum leap in intellectual inventions in the history of mankind.
New ideas and technologies are typically soundly rejected at first notice (excluding aforementioned Viagra, of course). The five-step acceptance process of new inventions goes something like this: Initial rejection (“If man was meant to fly God would have given us wings!”); reluctant use (“I will do it just this once because I have no other choice.”); regular begrudging use (“Sure I will use it but I sure don’t like it…it still makes me uncomfortable”); dependency (“I now cannot imagine a world without airplanes!”); to, finally, invisibility in which the technology is now so woven into the basic tapestry of the culture it becomes so normal as to be invisible.
I saw this in my lifetime with the cell phone. From the, “I will never use it” motto to the, “only in emergencies” phase to the, “just when I drive” fairytale -and then leapfrog to the, “where the hell is my damn cell phone? A part of me is lost!” contemporary milieu. It is now invisibly a part of us.
It is this fifth and final stage that worries me. When a technology becomes invisible we tend to stop evaluating its consequences on a culture.
In 2013 we are living in the future. This is it. (Check out this book my son just showed me this morning). We are soaking in it. Through technologies our lives have become so inoculated against so much harm, against so much pain, against so much danger while things have transitioned to be considerably easier for us than at any time in human history…and we are experiencing its consequences.
We have conquered the fear of germs with anti-bacterial technology everywhere…and today we suffer allergies for everything we once never thought possible. The GPS makes us a collective society that cannot navigate its way out of a paper bag without its use. The constant permeation of computer generated everything makes handwriting and penmanship a thing of the past (we actually had classes in penmanship growing up kids!). Our “social” networking is usually performed, ironically, alone and our social phobia’s are growing among the young.
Though perhaps nothing is more telling of where we are at as a society is the story that rests at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
I enjoy reading different non-fiction (I cannot read fiction for some reason) and several years ago I read an excellent book covering every known death in the Grand Canyon. It was an incredibly well documented book, aptly entitled, “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon” written by two medical doctors. It is not an exploitative book at all, rather it asks the questions who and why? What can we learn from these deaths?
I found this particular passage very insightful and applicable to this blog:
“But for American society in general it can be argued that, in our generations-long quest for security, we have domesticated ourselves. We train and hire specialists to do everything for us so that we do not have to take the risks of doing it ourselves. We hire police…contractors…farmers…programmers…Ralph Nader to make our cars and skies safe…we have airbags and parachutes and orthopaedic surgeons and seat belts and life vests and helmets to protect us when something goes wrong…We are no longer wild Homo sapiens. Instead, psychologically, many of us are sheep, or if you prefer, Homo sapien domesticus…many of us now make the habitual and unquestioned assumption that somebody else is supposed to be watching out for our best interests for us. We blindly follow the rest of the flock and assume that the sheepherder, wherever he is, is keeping his eye peeled for the wolves.”
In some ways, that sheepherder is our technologies that coddle and protect us. Though, in the long run, do they?
You have been riddled Batman. All are, in part, the result of living presently in the future.
Welcome to the future your mother warned you about.
“It is now. It is the present moment.”
— Virginia Woolf
How often do we say that? Our heads are always off somewhere else: wondering if the email we sent last night was misinterpreted, planning what we’ll say to the cop who pulls us over for speeding (it amazes me the amount of time I spend preparing for things that never happen), asking ourselves if mint green was really the best choice for the bathroom remodel, worrying that tickets to the Rolling Stones “50 & Counting” concert at the Verizon Center will be sold out.
To Do lists, regrets, daydreams, Pinterest all have something in common: they take our minds off of the present. Even reading, especially the latest John Grisham novel or the soft porn dessert cookbook, can be a way to escape to another reality. I used to joke with a friend: “I’m not on a new diet. I’m on a new diet book.”
Since we are so often driven to distraction, how do we find our way back to “now?” I read a great book once, “Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (try saying that name three times in a row … or even once). The idea is that during “flow,” people experience deep enjoyment, creativity and total involvement with life. Isn’t that what we all want … but isn’t it the hardest state to achieve?
That’s why I love spending time in my garden. I am totally THERE. Time seems to stand still, I am in the moment. All my senses are involved: smelling the geraniums, eating a ripe tomato, seeing the astonishing beauty of nature, working in the dirt and getting it between my fingers, hearing the house sparrows fight around the bird feeder. I am happy and content. I’m experiencing “flow.”
We all have these special times or places that take us away from the prison of our past or worries about our future: times we can “Be here now,” as Ram Dass says. Another of his quotes “The heart surrenders everything to the moment. The mind judges and holds back,” seems even more appropriate.
So, shocking or not, I say seize the present moment. Focus your mind on what is happening around you right now. Don’t miss out on seeing how your child’s mind is daily expanding and growing, or your aging parent’s foibles … so precious when they are gone … or your own ecstasy in living to experience this one God-given moment of continued existence.
“The meeting of two eternities, the past and future … is precisely the present moment.”
— Henry David Thoreau
Wow! How can I put this as eloquently and academically as possible? Hmmmmm…that right there is some good shit!! Did you see the Ram Dass documentary? It is incredible. He is incredible. Thank you for adding to the quality of this blog with your brilliant contributions Sandra…I love your mind.
My mind is blushing ;)No, I didn’t see the documentary. Do you know the title? Perhaps I can watch it on Netflix streaming. (I must confess, I don’t know much about him other than the “Be Here Now” meme.) I read a couple of his books during my Zen period. When I was living on Maui a couple of years ago, my friends would go hear him speak at various alternative metaphysical programs and one friend knew him well enough to visit him in his home. I don’t think he is in very good health. I did read Alan Watts and some of the other philosophers popular in the 60s. I feel that Christianity has more “truthiness” but Buddhism has deeper answers to our spiritual yearnings. Thank you for commenting on my comment. I was in a rather fugue state this morning.
Just go to Netflix and search “Ram Dass” –it is one of the most touching documentaries I have ever seen. And, yes, the lion’s share of the doc concerns his health. I do not see Christianity and Buddhism necessarily at odds with one another at all (I know you do not either) though I suppose it would depend on what version of Christianity we are talking about.
Found it. Ram Dass: Fierce Grace. And luckily it’s available to stream, so I don’t have to wait for a disc to arrive. I’ll watch it as soon as school is out. Thanks
Dear Edward Nigma,
You present two riddles.
My first answer (hopefully you don’t kill me or my girlfriend, if I am wrong) is that one could have a panic attack due to social anxiety with the accompaniment an allergic reaction to peanuts, thus while trying to navigate the giant hole in the west, one could easily fall into the Grand Canyon, because his or her handwritten directions are illegible and/or his or her eyes are too swollen to see properly. If only this poor person had a more innate or maybe even learned sense of direction, perhaps he or she could have avoided such a great fall. Regardless, it is very clear that these themes are easily connected… (Sarcasm intended, lol)
My second answer begins with a question, followed by philosophical and argumentative nuances.
Are human inventions and technologies meant for protection? I would argue that many inventions that are created for our protection are actually a result of another invention that was made to better our lives. You might say that bettering our lives is like coddling, but I would refute that by the fact that technology really has made our lives busier and increased our capacity to do more. Which isn’t really coddling, if I didn’t have a smartphone I wouldn’t feel compelled to write important emails while waiting for my class to start (not yours of course), or while riding with someone to a meeting or while on the toilet… In essence technology has allowed us to do more and to be able to do it everywhere. Maybe it has made some things easier and thus we take archaic skills for granted, but I believe some people will still choose to develop a good sense of direction or enhance their hand writing skills. Regardless, I’m not, your not and society sure as shit is not going to abandon our technology, so how can we ensure our technology is used as to tool for meaning and accomplishment, my answer (the one I say is ultimately the answer to every societal issue): is education.
Thanks for the riddles Mr. Nigma.
Thanks for the feedback Kyle…though riddle me this Batman…what is the difference between Coors, Bud, Miller, Corona Lights and Pabst Blue Ribbon? Only the medium my friend! All the same shit. Though that will be proven next week. I appreciate you really stretching it to try and argue with me yet it appears we have very little disagreement. Certainly not all technologies are meant for our protection though a lot of them are indeed. I have a new Camaro and it has a 5 star safety rating. The vehicle was invented for the purpose of taking more control over our physical environment and, as a result, seatbelts, airbags and crash technologies have made it so I feel nearly bulletproof in that badboy. It is so easy to forget that speed kills and I am engaged in a very unnatural activity…thus technology lessens my fear of the natural world. As you know, unlike Postman, I am totally pro-technology yet I believe, as you suggest, that we always need to be asking the questions of what it is doing to us -what might be the downsides and how do we cultivate a life that maximizes the rewards and minimizes the cost? I think we always have to factor that there is going to be a large segment of the population not being educated and not asking these questions…giving guys like you and I a leg up when the electricity goes out and the back up generator runs out of gas.