Old Age

These millennials. In class today all but two of us—out of fourteen—were using computers to take notes. First time I have seen that. Everybody with a computer, typing, checking out whether the seminary booksite or Amazon was a better deal, formatting things with charts and bullets and stuff I have no idea how to produce. The technology.

Have you read The Giver? As I remember it from once reading it long ago the book depicts a society with something wrong. And you wonder what it is. Communism? Some parable against being conservative? What? At least, that’s what I remember: some confusion, some sense of a wrong I could not put my finger on. Then you find out that, as a result of some disaster, in order no longer to be vulnerable they have lost the perception of color: all live without it.

I wonder if technology is doing something like that to us. I read the most recent research books and it is all about running searches on computers and evaluating computer research. Not so much about evaluating sources, weighing witnesses, testimony, evidence. Nothing about touch and atmosphere, about the contact of dust and paper, people and their ways. I register for classes online, resentful, sending emails to anonymous recipients asking for help and I proceed groping, without human contact. Not entirely without human contact, but increasingly with less. I get into a modern car and deal with a computer. We stick wires in our ears, watch flickering screens, take all kinds of artificially produced chemical anodynes. Are we becoming comfortable blobs of decreasing humanity? Imagine you are in the world of The Giver, but you can perceive color. Who is more alienated, those who can’t, or you who can and can’t talk to anybody about it? Not that I think we are losing color, but I wonder if we aren’t loosing human complexity. Take the observation in The New Atlantis about how faceblob address difficulties by removing them.

Two things about difficulties: One is something I read in a history book that pointed out how some histories fail because in explaining, the explainer removes the difficulties in order to make the story smooth and appealing. This results in anodyne, impoverished smooth chronicles of what did not really take place. The second thing is some remark I read about a problem for the Platonic system that was describes as a fruitful generator of difficulties. That’s an interesting way to think about it, and it is true. Difficulties enrich, cause us to look deeper, keep us all night wrestling with our demons, or our angels. Poetry is difficult, so is good music, so are worthwhile things. Not to say there are not good simple things, but the world can’t be reduced to these alone.

Technology alienates from being. I keep holding out on the cellular telephone. What will happen to me? There will come a time, presumably, when it will be too inconvenient to live without one. I was going to write impossible—impossible as living without a touch-tone phone; but you still can and perhaps always will. One must in general, Kierkegaard observed to a chap with an outlandish coat, dress the way other people do. It is good advice, in general. Still, what will it do to you if your face is not always lit by the light of a computer screen? If you aren’t connected by faceblob, or thumbing the device from which wires run to your ears? Will it make a person feel like someone who can see color when it is not something other people register? It is not true that this person—if this is what results—is the more alienated. It is the ones who can’t see color who are alienated and don’t know it. The person who can see color still has greater contact with being in general, though not with the decreasing beings around him.

That is what I think this evening. Is this old age?

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