Futurists, novelists, and filmmakers have imagined worlds where human beings are controlled by media and computers (George Orwell's 1984 and Stanely Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey) or live in isolated urban wastelands (Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film Metropolis).
But the future is now. And it's not exactly like any of these fictional depictions. It's worse
Lately we are being confronted by how our own behavior - writ large as a society - is changing in accelerating and irrevocable ways. I have written about this in terms of how - while we constantly recommend, remonstrate, and exhort kids to avoid sweets and to exercise - instead kids' lives are more insulated, protected, and rarified than ever.
We now learn from a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, that the average kid spends 2.5 hours each day listening to music, almost five hours watching TV and movies, three hours on the Internet and playing video games, and an hour-and-a-half text messaging - 10:45 of daily media consumption (not counting the texting). That adds up to 75 hours of media every week - nearly two full work weeks.
They are able to do this because they carry increasingly sophisticated electronic gadgets that allow them to do several things simultaneously, instantaneously, and continuously. And who is going to change this by banning or confiscating the gadgets - the Taliban? Certainly not parents, schools, politicians, or gadget manufacturers. It's just the way it is.
And how will this change reality and life for the coming generation? There really is no template to answer that question, but it will change relationships and social health, exertion levels and physical health, mental experience and psychological health - all in ways we can't calculate. Scary, huh?
To see how our world has changed and will only change more, and which we KNOW is creating problems, let's turn to the study by the National Safety Council showing that 28 percent of accidents occur when drivers are talking on cell phones or texting. EVERYONE knows it isn't good to talk on a cell phone while driving - and Lord knows it can't be good to drive and text.
But who is going to change that and how? How many people are going to wait to answer their cell phone when it rings in their cars? And there are already numerous laws governing cell phone use while driving. The police simply can't enforce everyone's cell phone use inside their automobiles. So perhaps a technological fix - some way of disabling cell phones when cars are operating? That's not going to happen - in fact, auto manufacturers are now offering automobiles with Internet hook-ups as the new sales come-on.
We have achieved a new level of dependence on electronic hook-ups that divert us from the daily business of living, relating (I often see two people sitting together at a table engrossed in their blackberries or texting), and conveying ourselves from one place to another (we are seeing increasing pedestrian accidents due to people texting).
I just returned form a train trip to Washington DC. I wanted some peace to think, look out the window - all right - and to take notes on my notebook computer. Sure enough, a guy sits down next to me and spends the entire time between Philadelphia and Baltimore whispering loudly into his cell phone. Finally, I excuse myself to go to the café car - where all the polite people have gone to talk on their mobile phones. Trapped for five hours round-trip in the 21st Century!
We cannot imagine how much further these things can progress (unless it is to a point when everyones' entire waking lives are spent in some kind of electronic limbo), how it will effect human experience (until we become the equivalent of a new electonicized species), and how we can possibly reverse this seemingly inexorable electronic crescendo and infinite cacophony.
Picture: Tesla and his electronic force field