Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Rise of the Self

Computing has made life much easier in almost all aspects. It has touched everything from cooking to culture. The one thing it has affected most is the notion of the self, and the implications of this shift in productive ideology could be a disaster.

Let’s start with the world before modern technology. Communities–from roving band of warriors to medieval village–had to work together in order to survive and thrive. As technology improved less and less focus on the group has been needed. Technology replaces the need for a specialist, the need to rely on your neighbour. It has worked on many levels, particularly in terms of globalisation, but the final battle is now being fought.

Computers specifically have been a massive aid to the improvement of the self. PCs meant working from home, they meant conversing from home, and they meant dating from home. But this democratization of the self doesn’t mean we have found ourselves. Far from it. Sherry Turkle, in Life on the Screen, says that, “…technology is bringing a set of ideas associated with postmodernism.” That is, instability of meaning, among various other theoretical dilemmas. Once where we had to calculate our choices carefully, computers mean that there is no need to fret while simulation takes precedence. And this insidious touch has reached out from the screen.

Companies utilise technology against the individual, to trap the present proletarian exactly where the money and power brokers want. Think about it. At the shops, we have self-serve lanes. Websites and automated answering machines force us to guide ourselves through whatever issues frustrate us, under the euphemism “trouble-shooting”. Education is moving online, prompting “sef-learning” through online courses. And all this we brought on ourselves.

Consumerism is the culprit. We wanted things for ourselves. We wanted the education of our dreams, not what is necessary to be happy. We were sick of off-shore helpline workers. We wanted faster shopping line queues. It’s been me, me, me for decades now, and the world is giving it to us in spades. What this does is cut every person off from their neighbour. It makes the individual an island of selfishness and greed. The Internet is a gateway to learning about the world from the comfort of our bedroom, yet we refuse to listen to experts.

There is a fight back, and there will hopefully always be fight. From farmers markets to Occupy, people do realise that in order to maintain the world people need to come together. The fear is that as technology does more for us, we’ll be less inclined to do so.

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Friday Fiction: Afraid of Flying

The prompt I used for this piece insisted on my first flying experience. I, however, decided to explore another angle of the flying experience: One’s first fall:

We were over the Northern Territory when it happened. Almost over the water. It had been such a peaceful flight—no children, and plenty of spare seats to stretch out over. I think I was drinking my third or fourth scotch and dry. All I remember is taking a sip and choking as the cabin blew apart.

I suppose it’s lucky there were so few people on the flight. A red eye trip to Singapore to pick up more passengers before heading onwards to Europe. I’d done it dozens of times before. Going overseas was nothing. I know so many people who never leave Australia, except maybe to go to New Zealand or Tasmania, and they don’t count. It had become such a droll experience.

I remember standing in the line to board and feeling entirely nonchalant and seeing the nervous chattiness of the people around me. Families and lovers all moving closer together as if they could see their impending doom, or at least feel it. Humans are instinctive like that.

It’s a good thing we are or I wouldn’t have survived and I’d be just another body under mounds of fuselage and the search crews wouldn’t find me for days and my family would be holding on to hope only to be even more disappointed. As it is it’s like I’m the second coming of Jesus, a miracle. I just grabbed on to whatever was closest at the time and didn’t let go.

It’s isn’t true, that whole time-slowing, or life-flashing. No, everything happens very quickly and you barely have time to take notice of anything before it’s all over. One minute we’re all quite happy, the next there is the howling of the wind and I’m flying. Truly flying, no strings attached. I must have blacked out at some stage, but for the briefest of moments I can recall falling. Like Icarus, I had too much confidence in the contraption that carried me.

No one can explain the exact physics of how I survived. The best anyone can come up with is that the shock of impact was nullified by whatever plane materials were between me and the building I hit. The family that lived in said building was killed so that I may survive. I really don’t think it was worth it.

Now I’m in hospital, with a couple of broken bones and a collapsed lung, but altogether rather fine. The only survivor. It’s times like this you want to believe in a God, or that you lived for a higher purpose. But I’m not so easily fooled.

I went for a flight, it crashed, and I survived. That’s it, there isn’t any more.

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