Couple of days ago I read a post from one of my favourite bloggers; Ollin Morales. The trails and tribulations of our times Ollin portrayed so well in his post resonated with my own thoughts on the subject. I briefly touched on that in my comment. But still could not stop thinking about it. Those thoughts eventually gave birth to this post.
History of humankind teaches us that every generation feared great many perils that plagued their times. Pre-agricultural societies feared unknown that lurked in wilderness, early agriculturalists were fearful of climate uncertainties, those living in times of great empires lived in fear of invasions, and those dwelling in Middle Ages lived in terror of black death, inquisition and magic. Those are only some examples, there are many more. During The Cold War fear of communism from one side, and capitalism from the other kept millions of people frozen with terror. And provided ready-made excuses for ever greater accumulation of weaponry. More recently fear of communism has been replaced by fear of terrorism, climate change, energy and resource shortages … the list goes on. To be human is to fear. And that is not necessarily always bad thing either.
Because it was those fears, together with great dose of curiosity that, throughout the centuries, prompted us to change, modify, and improve our surroundings. Some argue that great number of those improvements resulted in terrible tragedies. And they are right. Nevertheless, we humans cannot help but meddle in our world endlessly. Because unlike any other spices we need to understand; assemble and disassemble. Construct and reconstruct. Giant developments in science, medicine, technology, and art are all testaments to glorious abilities of human mind. And most recently we are living within IT revolution. The revolution that has changed, and continuous to change our world forever … just like its predecessor; industrial revolution did.
But there is something different at play this time. Something unique to our time. The arrival of phenomenon we can describe as ‘information fatigue’ that is slowly resulting in collective desensitization. Let us take a look at that.
While throughout the history humans designed, invented, and developed ideas, concepts, tools and art to understand, improve, and modify their world; contemporary humans are busy developing ever new tools and gadgets for display. For showmanship. We are becoming entertainers. Performers in our own show.
And just like in any show; words, information, and images must remain fresh, new and engaging. Since they are replaced with newer and fresher, more engaging, or more shocking every minute of every day. Brevity is necessary to cater for ever-shorter attention spans. To consume never-ending flow of information they have to be presented in bite-size portions. Because show must go on.
Nobody understood that quicker or better than clever manufactures of gadgetry. Once need for constant flow of information and images has been created and embedded in the modern minds, it was relatively easy to design and manufacture gadgets capable of displaying the show; constantly and on demand. Humankind was ‘plugged in’. Race for gadgets was on. Together with race for content to display on those gadgets they gave birth to trends.
Trends are cultivated on fear of somehow being left behind, not knowing or being known. Not see or being seen. To know, to display and being displayed you need to follow, and to follow is to race. Because trends are replaced with the new ones the moment they are born. To ensure that we never stop racing … never stop to draw breath, let alone stop to think whether we really need any of it. We must remain programmed and plugged in to feed trend-setters, media-moguls, applications creators and gadgetry designers and manufactures. They engineered us to do so.
They also engineered us to become accustomed to images of despicable crimes and loss of basic human dignity on screens. We are able to watch gross atrocities of wars and displays of human genitalia endlessly. Most horrid and most intimate moments humans are capable of are freely on display. How many of such images do you need to see before you are no longer shocked by them? How many before you no longer care because you have seen it all or worse before?
And once we are no longer shocked, no longer appalled and outraged, we do not react. We do not stand up to say that is enough. We are no longer compelled to stop killings, maiming’s, exploitations, slavery, abuse, hunger. We simply flick to another image. To a new trend. To a new tweet. This is the moment when we stop being defined by our humanity and become defined by our desensitized consumerism. It has been said that; ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ And people will do nothing, if they feel nothing.
I do not intend to paint picture of total gloom and doom here and ask that we pull the plugs and return to candlelight, even though I do love glow of candles! It will be of course foolish to deny or even question many great benefits IT revolution provided us with. Easy and fast access to free information being the most obvious. After all this is how I can write this blog, and read news and books on-line. But just like any other revolution that has altered course of humanity, it has brought about, or enabled many unfortunate by-products or developments. Information fatigue and desensitization being the most prominent.
How we respond to those challenges will define the world we leave to our children. More than climate change and more than any other real or perceived as real threat we fear.
This is not to say that to censor or control flow of information is the answer. The answer I believe lay not within, but outside the technology. It lays within the creators of technology, thus us humans. There are no other spices on this planet capable of such doings but us. Technology is not capable of making us into unfeeling zombies. Only we are. Do not let it.