Jun 142012

We don’t do, do we?  We watch others doing.  We’re racists as spectators at football matches.  We’re envious as citizens under the largesse of those far wealthier than us.  We watch ever so eagerly as barristers pin down public figures at televised inquiries.  We observe our friends and colleagues spill their lives on social networking sites.

Vicarious lives are not lives properly lived.  The emotions, the sensations, which drive us to extremes – when contained by the four walls of a home or a stadium or a computer screen – would exhibit themselves otherwise if we were getting fully involved.  Yet the future is sedentary – a future where human beings are tied to interconnected gadgets and devices of all kinds.  The future is fat: a fatness born of watching.

Our eyes have taken over from all our other senses.  One day, one generation, one future species the planet awaits, we will be constituted of little more than 360-degree eyes on mobile stalks of omniscient vision.

Our digital cameras, our mobile phones, our TV channels – they are already bringing this all-seeing, all-inspecting, all-knowing frame to our lives.

And yet we know so very little any more of what it is to touch, smell, hear and taste.

Vicariously voyeuristic lives, unbound by other senses: dangerously couched perceptions which make us all less wise, not more; which make us less human, less kind, less able to understand another.

All this seeing is twisting us away from the fullness of what being a human being used to be.  Second-hand car salesmen gaining power at our expense?

It’s really all we as second-hand citizens deserve.

For only when we decide to get physically and directly involved in the direction this world is taking will we have the right to condemn our political adversaries for doing the same.

Just add it up: how much of your day do you spend actively staring at a screen of some kind or another?  Minutes?  Hours?  Mornings?  Even entire working timetables?  And everything funnelled and framed by these screens: no wonder you’ve lost the ability to act.

Guided and controlled; ordered and structured.

All the above is why we need to want to break free.


Jun 142012

I’ve been a bit miserable these past few months.  But here’s an image which provides us with grounds for real optimism.  Via a Facebook friend.  Translation below.

Iceland will triple its growth in 2012 after imprisoning politicians and bankers

Iceland managed to finish off a corrupt and parasitical government.  It imprisoned those responsible for the financial crisis.  It started to draw up a new Constitution made by and for them.  And today, thanks to a people’s activism, it will be the most prosperous country in a Western civilisation affected by a tenacious debt crisis.  It’s all down to the Icelandic citizens, whose reactions in 2008 were silenced by a Europe fearful that many others would take note.  But they achieved it, thanks to the strength of the nation – what started out as a crisis became an opportunity.  An opportunity which the movements across the world looking for alternatives have observed with attention and have proposed as a realistic model to follow.

True or false?  A recent story from Reuters would seem to – happily – indicate the former.

Jun 142012

Yesterday, I wondered if democracy wasn’t too moral – too nit-picking – for its own good.  Today, via Twitter, Philip Blond argues that:

While A levels grades are rising UK now 23rd in the OECD for reading and writing – we are very poorly educated compared to our competitors

Poorly educated?  By what definition?  As nit-pickers who play their fearful tunes on the earthly Titanic of planetary disaster?

Three reasons, then, why Blond’s 140-character definition of where we’re at in education doesn’t convince me.  The first reason, as per George Takei’s Facebook page.

The second reason, which talks about how our traditional methods of defining learning success are totally inadequate to the job in hand – again, as per another Facebook-distributed image.

The third reason, via an Ipsos OTX opinion survey on being human-savvy versus being tech-savvy:

It may be a hi-tech digital world, but the heart still rules. Given the choice, 65% of us would rather be people-savvy than tech-savvy, a number that skews higher with women, 71% of whom value people-smarts over geek-smarts. Maybe that’s why so many tech marketers play to the heart, to connections between people, to romance and dreams.

Interestingly, however:

In emerging technology powers China and India, though, being tech-savvy trumps being people-savvy. […]

So to the question at the heart of this post: what is reading and writing good for anyway?  Before, as Norm points out, when endured, it guaranteed a certain long-term reward:

[…] I will hazard just one thing, and this without benefit of any familiarity with educational research or theory: some disciplines of learning do have to be imparted, because the very idea of real learning as pure spontaneity or pure fun is illusory.

Very true.  But if the purpose of life in the future is to make money at practically all costs, in order that we may help protect our offspring from the fearful dangers of a Darwinian capitalism (the state withering away as the welfare safety nets which protected us from the wolf at the door serve, instead, to unlock that selfsame door), that is to say, if financial survival rather than educated thought becomes the guiding light of our civilisation, what good will be the nit-picking skills reading and writing sustain when applied in that base and anti-intellectual world of modern cut-and-thrust – that world where professional executive-summary readers rule?

In fact, if survival does become the paradigm for our Western civilisation, who will have the time to want to read and write at all?

If being tech-savvy is the way forward for all our economies, aren’t we disestablishing the place of humanity even more than – to date – our socioeconomic policies have led us to allow?

And who says “if”?  Maybe survival is already our lot.

Maybe reading and writing have been the main cause of our downfall – ponderous skills which lead those who enjoy exerting them to miss the boat of an alleged tech-driven progress.

A word of caution, though, to leave you with: despite my reservations yesterday on the dangers of too much measured and time-consuming democratic morality, I might also be inclined to underline the contrary risks of quick-thinking.  Quick-thinking is the antithesis of many arts and traditions we are losing: publishing is just one; perhaps the one I am most familiar with.  Like a film truly worth its footage, a good book needs time to pass through the hands of its many creators.

Maybe the boat we are really missing is the boat of deep thought.

Or maybe, more sadly, reading and writing have had their day – and the years we now have ahead of us are simply times of inevitable crisis which form part of the cycle that is humanity on this globe.  The other day I read how some international organisation or other was indicating that we as a species were now in freefall towards a place of planetary no-return.  And I do wonder how it is we have managed to place ourselves so firmly at the centre of an ecosystem we supposedly should share with so many other creatures – creatures which have spent centuries suffering at our behest.

If our reading and writing – those activities which really do distinguish us from our fellow species – have passed their sell-by dates (that is to say, no longer serving the purpose they once fulfilled), and our planet rearranges matters so as to remove our existence from its face, surely life will go on as in such closed systems it always must.

Just not necessarily the life we imagined rather selfishly – even where literarily – for ourselves.