People are curvatures. That’s the beauty of the human animal. It is what separates us, not from what lies “below” us on the evolutionary scale, but from the future creatures we ourselves are today creating, who, according to certain knowledgeable oracles, may one day surpass us, replace us and even enslave us. As of now, the rudimentary mind of the pre-robotic electro-brains of today coerces us to follow straight lines to our perceived destination - therein lies speed, focus and clear choices. And this is good, so we are told. And we buy into it. Nonetheless, this is not who humans are. We are nuanced and many-layered. We meander through landscapes sometimes not going anywhere in particular. We reflect, make decisions, and change our minds along our way. We gather stuff and nonsense as we go, each according to his or her own desires. We fantasize and speculate. We stop to smell the flowers and look at our reflection in still waters. Speed and exactness are useless to us without these “ineffectual diversions”.
But, admittedly, our curvature character is also our bane, sometimes leading us far astray and, in the process, making us forget what we should remember, impelling us to interpret our surroundings with half-recollections and snapshot knowledge, confusing us into believing our short-sighted assumptions are universal truths. But…..is that a reason to follow the straight line? I say, no!
As we navigate these digital systems in their (and our) baby stages, we are excited by their vastness and in awe of how close the world suddenly seems to be. It’s a space mountain* of twinkling info-lights that appear out of what was once a vast darkness. On this thrilling ride, besieged with the constant buzz of information and input, the temptation to allow ourselves to be passively hurtled along and lulled into inaction, is strong….and imperceptible. But once we have sensed the danger, we wrestle with it for control. Whether we succeed, whether we can succeed, whether we need to succeed, is now up for discussion. If we look at it as a generational divide (if we may be allowed a moment of gross generalization) - those who are growing up with this very new and imposing technology, and those who knew the world without it - the debate is predictable. The younger ones navigate the systems with more ease, incorporating each advancement as a natural order of things. The older ones have to work at it in a readjustment process, often wondering why the next step is at all necessary. The younger ones encourage the older ones to see how advantageous each improvement is to the quality of life while the older ones implore the younger ones to remain vigilant as to what they are giving up. How do we answer one another, and where are the lines to be drawn?
I am a quantum social media, digital junkie. I didn’t see it coming. Tomorrow, I have promised myself, I will drill it down to a bare minimum. Actually, it started off well-enough with quite noble intentions. I accepted the new forms and recognized the many gains made from them. I wanted to, one, inform myself, understand more about the current waves of thought and movement in the world. I live in a foreign culture and can read the newspaper, listen to the radio, turn on the tv, and understand the words. But the process of comprehension and analysis was agonizingly slow, and daily life left no time. The digital world offered me the chance to see and listen to news media in my own native tongue and cultural context. My second objective was to rediscover my home, the political and social mindset of the day, what had changed and what remained as I had always known it. The third was the strongest motivation, easy access to my family.
Somewhere along the line, the information never seemed to be enough. I needed just one fact more, one more detail of the story, one more trusted opinion on the subject. Suddenly, it wasn’t sufficient to know about my home town alone. I had to read about the surrounding area, the other cities in proximity and then the next county, the next state and further and further away, like an endless ripple on a boundless ocean. What photo had I missed? What celebration? What announcement? What funny comment in reference to our family? My curvatures were being whipped around left and right until they screeched and stiffened, and I was being led in a straight line to whatever the calculating server thought I wanted and needed to know. And I let it happen. I was imperceptibly metamorphosing, gathering and storing information purely for its own sake, doing nothing with it, becoming like the ravenous machine that held my free time hostage. It had decided who I was and kept me on that narrow road, until that’s what I was becoming. I was forgetting to stop and look at myself in still waters. I didn’t remember that I could change my mind and test a new direction. I stopped searching for myself, the parts I knew that were hidden somewhere and the parts I didn’t yet know about. I stopped gathering the stuff and nonsense that made me edgy, unpredictable and nuanced, that had no logic for anyone but me. I stopped sitting at my piano and feeling my fingers find the keys to play the beautiful music of Ravel, Debussy and Gershwin. I stopped writing with any regularity, telling the wild stories that played themselves out in my head. I stopped feeling the potential of what could still be while I am still breathing.
We need no justification to demand space for personal growth. The “why we want it”, is irrelevant. It is our birthright, the legacy we received at our inception, the gift of gifts from whatever Creator or concept we believe in. If we continue to accept every upgrade that comes along, to thoughtlessly incorporate any advancement without asking the question, “what happens to me if I use it?”, we will freeze in a somnabulistic hibernation and the only ones with any viable creativity left will be those who design the advancing stages of electro-brain’s development, who will earn their fortunes, until they themselves become substandard to their own handiwork, then obsolete.
The human animal has only begun to discover the undiscovered in our amazing bodies and our deepest selves, and there is presumably much, much more. Electro-brain can help us, to be sure, if we don’t give it all our problems to solve, all our tasks to complete, all our decisions to be made; if we don’t give it all our thoughts to process, our riddles to unravel and our mysteries to solve. If we allow our potential to be converted into its potential, our knowledge to be sucked into its brain and out of ours, reducing ourselves to half-recollections and snapshot knowledge , forgetting what we should remember, and believing only in our short-sighted assumptions, we will end up serving it, and it will be the one with the beauty of curvature, and we will have the limited life of the straight line.
*Reference to Disneyworld’s rollercoaster