Andersen: Are we connected yet?
The iconic image of modern man is not The Thinker, with his thoughtful attitude, or David, in his splendid pose. It is not Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel, touching the divine.
The iconic image of modern man is a hurried, hunched-over figure, bent, in mid-stride, with a cellphone pressed to his ear. This image of modern man is inextricably linked to technology through a willful surrender of self.
Are we connected? This is a big question as the world spins on the axis of electronic linkages that spawn our vaunted social media. Are we connected? Yes and no.
The grand ambition of connectedness through technology has the dual and mutually exclusive function of disconnecting us from the real world. Focusing on the tiny, cell-like windows of our cherished devices is no alternative to the real connections available through our senses. Yet we are addicted to them.
The nature connection is pooh-poohed by technologists whose sensory systems are deadened by earbuds, whose lives are consumed by the black hole of screen time, whose friendship networks are virtual and boringly homogeneous.
The startling dichotomy about “connection” was pointed out recently during a public forum I moderated at the Pitkin County Library. Our topic was the book “Your Brain on Nature.”
“‘Connection’ is a word with opposite meanings in today’s culture,” explained a participant named Tom. “One form of connection — the internet — implies a disconnection from the natural world.”
If cellphones aren’t pressed to people’s ears, they are wired into them. You can see it on the Rio Grande Trail in Aspen, where walkers with headsets babble like schizoids into microphones, oblivious to what’s around them.
Most of humanity seems to crave this electronic connection, with a sole focus on human-to-human trivialities and banalities. Our collective apogee is to connect anywhere, anytime, with anyone!
This ubiquitous connection is a devil’s bargain because it means disconnection with important tangibles. Technological connections are so prevalent and so demanding that other links are lost. The first cast-off is our link with the natural world — even if you play Pokemon Go.
Pokemon gamers are connected to nature with augmented reality. For some, it’s the only reason they get off the couch. They visit places, but they don’t lift their eyes from their devices. Instead, they focus on flicking Pokemon balls at objects that earn virtual points. Pokemon Go offers proximity without really being proximate.
Screen time is a bogeyman for our ancient human brains, which evolved for 2 million years as sensory recorders and natural data processors. Gazing at screens makes us myopic, and not just in the ocular realm. Myopia is a cultural affliction where devices are robbing us of everything but pixel inputs. Our opposable thumbs have become texting tools.
Man once pondered the heavens, awestruck by celestial depths, perplexed by the great mystery. No more. Most people today live in cities where ambient light washes out the stars and eradicates curiosity about existence in the cosmos. Stargazing apps show us what we’re missing but without a real connection.
There are curative retreats today that help screen addicts overcome their techno-obsessive-compulsive disorder, quiet places where addicts seek escape from screen prisons. As robotic automatons, they struggle to wean themselves from the escapism and false values of the virtual — to become human again.
We are spiraling down a pixilated wormhole, lost in the vacuum of techno-gadgetry, the vast majority of which is commercially driven. Our instant connectivity gratification is perpetrated by commercially predatory industries that feed off our life spans by sucking up, vampirelike, our every waking minute.
We asked for it, and now there’s no escape. The mind of man is over-linked, downloaded, distracted from vital connections with the actual world that is spinning out of control toward an environmental Armageddon. We’re too tapped out to care.
Many millions of us are no longer invested in the real world because our minds are commandeered by the all-powerful wizard, the man behind the curtain who pulls the levers and issues clouds of smoke and flashes of light.
Why bother with reality when we can monitor the final act on our screens?
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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