Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Glow of Disillusion (and cancer, and death)



I posted this on my Facebook a week or so ago, and I thought it deserved repeating here, and I'll explain why. This is a conversation I had with one of my students (who is Asian by the way, if that makes a difference):

              Student: "Are you related to Confucius?"
              Me: "Do I look Asian?"
              Student: "You're always talking all philosophical and stuff."

I laughed. And initially I took his response as a compliment. I was flattered. In their eyes, I’m a philosopher, I’m Confucius, an ancient man of wisdom that far surpasses their own. But, no. Not even close. And I started thinking about the conversation. It started to bother me.

So here’s the context. Last week during a class break, a few students were talking about smart phones. How they love their smart phones, can’t live without them, wouldn’t remember how to breathe if they didn’t have it with them. I have a dumb phone. I love that it’s dumb. It keeps me sane. It keeps me grounded. It keeps reality stable and definable. So I went off on a little tirade about cell phones. The students were talking about smart phones being progress, and the future, how cell phones were changing us and making progress possible and blah blah blah. Totally bull. I told them that cell phones weren’t progress, but that we were convincing ourselves they were progress because we don’t know how to talk about this new technology that separates us, that divides communication, that disconnects the world from physical reality; we don't know how to talk about consumer driven "advancements" in technology. Apparently that mentality is philosophical.

I’m cool with that.

Here’s the problem: during the entire conversation, every one of the students stared at their smart phone's glowing LCD screen. Texting. Emailing. Checking status updates, Twitter feeds, or Instagram images. Racking up points on Candy Crush. Nonsense. All means to killing time, destroy brain cells, fill their minds with useless information and images, all the while giving them cancer of the eye.

Probably.

This is the world we live in, I’m told. This is the way of the future. Progress. I don’t get it. I don't get how pointing out the discrepancies of virtual communication and thwarting the powers of consumerism can be considered philosophical. The idea that pulling your face away from some plastic rectangle to interact with other flesh and blood and bones and muscles makes you philosophical terrifies me. Philosophers weren't/aren't men of the obvious, of the physically definable world (at least not in the sense that I am talking). They dwell in ideas: ethics, reason, the sublime, identity, relationships (of human and object kind), discipline and punishment, government, etc.

I’m a teacher. It’s my responsibility to make sure that my students are learning – and in my case, they are learning how to write. Essays. Resumes. Cover letters. Business emails. Skills that they will need if they hope to get a job once they graduate and become part of this capitalist regime. And yet, all they want are Apps and Lols and no-grammar-necessary lives. They want ease. Over simplification. Luxury without work.

I don’t blame cell phones, at least not entirely. They are a part of a disease, a growing malignancy choking out millennia of hard work, of connection. Not a golden age (no such place existed) but a place where faces were real, where people shook hands, and hugged, and kissed, and told things to each other with vocalized words; where texting in class wasn’t an issue, and laptops were paper notebooks, and you looked people in the eye when you spoke them; where we couldn’t avoid each other on the bus, or train, or plane, or wherever, behind some false screen representing someone else’s version of our reality.

Where am I going with all this? I don’t know. I never know. I’m just trying to figure out my life before it’s too late. There are all these influences and experiences and changes in my life, in the world, that I don’t understand, that I don’t want, that I don’t like, that if I could I would cut the cord of everything and just be for the sake of being. But I can’t. Because life doesn’t work that way. Not in 2013. Not in the new generation. Not in this world of technological progress and growth and ease and “brilliance”. Not here. Not anywhere. We've created a disease of upgradable consumerism.

Just give me a Hobbit Hole. That’s all I want. Some place to lay at night next to a fire with my wife and children, reading a story, hot chocolate mustaches all around, and the world outside asleep, the stars keeping us safe, watching, burning through space and time to make sure we are okay, that life still goes on, but without interruption, without fear. Without falsified progress.

1 comment:

Steph said...

I love that last paragraph especially :)