Extinction By Communication?

There is far too much communication going on. In fact, there is so much communication going on that SOMETHING has GOT to give sooner or later. It’s against all laws of nature for people to be THIS connected – across countries and continents, across timelines and most definitely across personal boundaries.

We moan about our stress levels, about how our time is not our own anymore, about lack of personal space. And it makes as much sense as moaning about pollution, which we do all the time – almost in the spirit of “Nature is not what it used to be”.

No, Nature is most certainly not what it used to be and air pollution is most certainly killing us. That’s because we have gone against all its laws and ensured that no matter how much Nature tries, it cannot clean up the noxious airborne cesspools above our cities. And as we all know, something has got to give on a larger front sooner or later, and I don’t mean just dying of emphysema. Sooner or later, the whole bloody system is going to break down.

What has this got to do with communication? Everything. There is communication pollution of pandemic proportions on the loose today, as well.

Picture, just for a moment, a scenario in which all invisible bands of ether and cable-borne communication in use today became visible for just a few minutes.  If someone were to take a photo of that from outer space, it would probably look as though the planet has been consumed by an incredibly virulent cancer. Human beings were never meant to be so much in contact with each other. No argument about how this kind of connectedness is good for business, but what about the basic psyche?

In a manner of speaking, borders and time variations came into being when the continents parted ways a few billion years ago and splintered further at the edges during the cooling process. Human beings weren’t around when all this happened, and that’s good. They only arrived and spread at their assigned geographies when the fences were firmly up.

Here is a critical point – we did not arrive on one seamless piece of Earth. The land masses were spread around the face of the globe, leading to differences in climate, colour, metabolism, languages and time lines. When one side of the globe slept, the other side was awake. I think we were supposed to evolve somewhere along those lines.

In our early primate state, we were certainly not equipped to monkey around with the natural order of things.  We gibbered good-naturedly at the monkeys in the adjoining caves when we felt good and pulped them with rocks when we didn’t.  There was no question of gibbering long-distance to whatever had crawled off the trees or slithered out of the ocean on the other side of the globe.

When we picked our noses or scratched our asses, we did not have to worry about our indulgence in such small pleasures being captured and disseminated to everybody else over the ether.  Our priorities were basic and manageable. We were individuals with dignity and a clearer concept of boundaries than we have today.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Everyone is connected, all the time – by regular and cellular phones, by television and by Internet. Satellites probe every nook and cranny of the globe for significant and insignificant events and flash news of them out to everyone in an instant. They transmit communications from one end of the planet to the other in a fraction of a second. Gone are the boundaries. Time differences are merely notional. Privacy is a laugh. And we love it that way, never once considering that this could be wrong – that it was never meant to be this way.

There has been a serious communication and information overload happening for quite a while now, but it has all happened in a relatively short period. The first telephone call was placed in 1876.  The first radio transmission took place in 1900, between two towers just a kilometre-and-a-half apart. The first television broadcast, if it could be called that, was in 1925. The first email was sent in 1971 and the first cellular phone call was placed in 1973.

All this has taken place in less than 150 years – a totally laughable period in terms of evolution. In fact, we have still not outgrown our body hair. We still have a tailbone. Men still grunt when they see a pretty woman, and women still shriek when they catch them doing it. The hairs at the backs of our necks still bristle when we sense danger. We still procreate in the same old messy way. And we still kill our contemporaries when we perceive them to be peeing on our side of the fence – which is all that war has ever been and ever will be, regardless of whether we wage it with sticks and stones or nuclear bombs.

And even though we haven’t evolved one bit over the past two hundred years, we have literally killed off all concepts of privacy, peace, dignity and personal space by investing more and more relentless ways of communicating with each other. We have reached a stage where we have the means to make trans-continental calls, send instant messages, email each other and pry into others’ lives over the Internet in a single device that we carry in our pockets. We just can’t conceive life without the ability to do this, either:

A – The Vodafone network is down again

B- WHAT?!? AGAIN?? It can’t be! It was gone for a whole ten minutes last month!

A – Well, I guess we’ll survive…

B – SURVIVE?!? ARE YOU CRAZY?!? I can’t survive with my Blackberry on the blink!!

A – Why? What will happen? So you can’t read your mails, check your stocks, play online Scrabble or pry on your girlfriend for a few hours. What’s the big deal?

B – God, I had no idea that you’re so dense. Don’t you get it? IF I CAN’T DO THOSE THINGS, MY LIFE IS FINISHED!!  I MAY AS WELL DIE RIGHT NOW!!! Let’s go and get drunk till service resumes…”

Flash back a hundred a fifty years. A mail arrives at a serene little farm at the foothills of a Montana mountain range.

Farmer – Juliet, there is a letter from Emily. She’s finally reached Boston. She says she’ll write again in a couple of weeks to let us know how the new job is.

Wife – I’m so glad. By the way, have you fed the chickens yet?

Dignity. Perspective.  Respect for space. Things we have to live without today. Our air and water are polluted with toxins, and our sanity is polluted with communication. Our own smartness has hijacked us, and who is to say that there won’t be a price to pay for it soon?

We already have documented cases of Internet-induced insanity, but have they identified the first serious mental disease brought on by cellular phone use yet – or will that only happen next month? Relationships are already breaking down en masse because of the communication / information overload. But what will Nature’s final revenge be?

(PS – The author of this post has killed himself by swallowing his Blackberry 9810, which also figured several times in his suicide note. Mourners please avoid texting him – the Urgent Chime alerts are freaking out the mortician)

*PTSD As A Way Of Life

Do nothing and just Be…

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time on the Internet will have come across this time-honoured Zen chestnut, or variants of it. At first glance, it looks pretty nifty. Stop everything, give your churning brain the spiritual equivalent of a Novocaine shot, merge with the ether and smell the roses.

I can’t do it, for several reasons. The first is that in order to Just Be, I first have to know what I am. There are as many clashing online takes on that as there are on the benefits and demerits of coffee consumption. Opinions be damned, I will drink coffee no matter what the final verdict is because I can’t function without it.  As for what I am, I have displayed a remarkably consistent ability to not give that too much thought.

If my suspicions are right, I am neither Spirit momentarily trapped in temporal environs, a sinner in urgent need of redemption, or God. If my suspicions are right, I – like everyone else – am nothing more than a trumped-up monkey with the ability to immeasurably complicate my life with rational thought. Do nothing and just be THAT? I don’t think so.

The second problem is that at my age, time is no longer on my side – if it ever was. There’s stuff to be done, and limited time to do it in. More specifically, there is a livelihood to be earned and an uncertain future to be secured. I sincerely hope to eventually get off the corporate hamster wheel, retire and do nothing. On second thought, scratch that. I mean get off the corporate hamster wheel and get on a hamster wheel of MY choosing. One that rotates at a more sedate speed, but nevertheless rotates. I’m going to make a lousy retiree.

At my age, this is something of a priority, so dropping everything, clearing my mind, straightening my spine and zoning out is not an option. I mean, it MAY be an option, but my mind doesn’t think so, and it’s the only one I have. My mind has never a very good candidate for change. In the first place, it fits well in my skull. Like into an old shoe. I’ve had it with me for the last 48 years, and I’ve grown to like it. I’m not abandoning it for some unknown substitute. That would be disloyal and would in any case not work for long.

So picture me descending to the floor in a lotus pose, my twitching body ignoring all the stuff I have to do every goddamned day just to break even and my churning mind shutting out all the random thoughts that need to be sifted, pieced together, spun into sentences and pounded out on the keyboard just so that I can hopefully put an end to the work day. You see what I’m saying? Not happening.

There was a time when I had the option of reaching for a cost-effective bottle of booze and zoning out that way. It worked to some extent. I would do nothing (except drink) and my mind would indeed stop (sort of). My body would certainly be rendered incapable of coordinated, productive movement. So in a manner of speaking, drinking would help me get as close to that ideal Zenesque state of doing nothing and just being as I would ever get.

My doctor, however, refused to see the spiritual side of it. He was of the opinion that it was better to be temporal and alive than to be spiritual and dead. It took me some time to accept this, but the logic was irrefutable and I finally had to nail shut my only window to the ethereal world of numb nothingness. I tried substituting with woo-woo altered consciousness stuff for a while – but as I said, I’m not really on the market for alternatives. Especially when I’ve known the real thing.

So I guess I’ll never know what it means to sit still and listen to the grass grow. Come to think of it, who would want to hear that anyway? What’s wrong with listening to some nice spa music? It’s very relaxing, and I always listen to it as I tear around my place after a stressful day’s work, trying to find things to fix and spots that need cleaning.

It helps me concentrate.

*(PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome)