“Are we in danger of becoming robots or is it already too late?”
This is on the subject of human disconnection with nature, the very roots from which we grew. I was walking back home from the gym in the wind and the rain, feeling glad to be living. My blood pumping and some refreshing wind and rain ensured I remained bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. As I climbed the steepest of the hills I experience on my return journey in my hometown, walking next to the virtually twenty-four-hour traffic jam at my side, I wondered how many of those enclosed in their expensive, invasive metal boxes were feeling sympathy for the poor man walking in the wind and rain up this hill. Or whether the more sadistic-minded of them were gaining pleasure from seeing a fellow human being “suffering” in what are considered conditions to be avoided. Walking, windy weather, and getting wet and maybe even out of breath. “My God! Is he mad or poor?” I often stop halfway up this hill to look out over the town below. From here I can see the varying weather conditions across the town; it’s a moment of rare beauty to be found in the partnership between man and nature. I hasten to add sadly that the beauty is entirely accidental on man’s behalf. I know that man does at times attempt to compliment nature in his building in many towns and cities, but I also know that my hometown is not one of those. However, I will take accidental beauty. That works for me. Luton is a physical, industrial town. Sometimes, beauty just happens. Maybe that is the best kind of beauty.
This day there was a large raptor climbing the winds sweeping the hill, using his own method of circling and rising on the thermals, a skill that would come in very handy for me. The nearest I get to any thermals would be my underwear. Amazingly, I alone experienced this sight, despite the close presence of literally hundreds of others, closed off from the world in their metal boxes. They were talking, texting, or just staring out of their windows as if in a trance. Would they not get curious as to what the madman was looking at? Maybe they just wanted to avoid eye contact. Could it be that they were all so distracted that they had ceased to attend to anything that didn’t flash or beep at them? The simple answer is yes; it could be exactly that. They would need to set an alarm to alert them to nature. There were dozens of people only a short distance away from me but our interpretations of that moment would be worlds apart. That is how it is – each personal perspective totally unique. Always!
As I continued my journey home, my personal joy in this moment started to become tinged with sadness at the idea of an entire species in imminent danger of losing these natural moments of pleasure. An entire species of virtual automatons lost in their own inventions, in technology, in progress, and the search for more. Ultimately this is a search for happiness via distraction. Happiness may be much closer than one thinks and not to be found outside of oneself. The search will prove to be closer to less than to more. I feel sad that it may already be too late. Human beings are almost extinct, to be replaced by a new version of humans evolving with tech and maybe as human/tech hybrids eventually – part things part human and to be judged by their stuff.
“A culture which is increasingly dominated by governments and armies and the central role of man to consume man-made things, gadgets, and machines. This bureaucratic industrialism tends to transform human beings into things. It tends to replace nature by technical devices, the organic by the inorganic.” —Fromm, 1963
I am not so much anti-tech as knowing that there is a balance to be found and the flexarian attitude is never more needed than with managing the tech in our lives. We must be flexible and moderate in our use of technology. There are times when it’s use is essential and time saving and an obvious benefit and there are times when it is distracting and just plain anti-social. Finding the sweet spot is key. And developing a strong character with enduring personal values is the key to balancing the good life.
I will continue to think, read, write, and treasure my many small moments of human and nature interaction and live in the hope that many millions are doing the same or are about to awaken from their conformist captivity and choose to live once more. I pray they choose to get wet and out of breath, at least now and again, as the only rational choice for the future of this perfect planet.
I am forced to add to this thought, as I feel I am misleading and a tad bias in my descriptions of my heavenly walks. As I finished the above writing, I grabbed my coat, filled my pockets with dog treats, and headed for the park. For the entire outward-bound journey, I felt the wind and rain on my back and had a bounce in my stride. The front of my coat was totally dry. As I turned a corner in the park, I felt the full force of the freezing wind and horizontal rain in my face. Wow! I let out a loud Whoop! Mother Nature had turned the power up a few notches from yesterday. My face quickly became numb.
I marched home cold, soaked, and smiling as I realised the misleading nature of my thought written in the moments before I left the house. The lesson here for me is that I yap on about the challenge of a “life of less” being easy, but that is clearly untrue. There are often times when the discomfort of a simpler existence makes me question my own sanity. That is living. There are moments of pleasure and moments of a more uncomfortable nature, when a car would be more comfortable, or it would be easier to burn time and avoid my own company watching a television. This is particularly true when you have developed in a generation that has been taught to believe that comfort and ease are always good and physical effort is a dirty word.
Labour-saving devices have changed human behaviour and history forever. In some instances, this is for the best, but as is usual with anything touched by humans, abuse and obsession soon ensure a backlash at least on a par with any benefits. Life does seem to balance the books or, more to the point, the negative consequences are generally not dealt with until it is too late, if at all. The good consequences are used to sell the technology. Maybe there should be appointed “downside” or consequences committees to look at the negative aspects of inventions and new technology on the human organism. If the technology does not ultimately enhance the human organism, then it is not needed. If this had been the case already, many of our everyday gadgets would never exist.
In closing this thought, before I experience plague and pestilence, I am suggesting you live a physically harder life. I am sorry if I made you believe I spent my life flitting, Mary Poppins-like, through a fairy tale life. I was guilty of selling my idea without dealing with the negative consequences, although I do feel that the negative consequences are all that are on most conformists’ minds and mostly how they justify conforming. However, I do have my flitting days – many of them. And I do conform just not quite as much as I have previously in my life. I still have to play the game as we all do. Maybe I just see it more as a game than deadly serious as I have matured. I do still have my trudging and Mr Grumpy days. Even on my worst days, I still have the immense satisfaction of knowing I am making changes to my life in an attempt to make a difference as best I can, win or lose. That is a great feeling, even on a bad day. It simply makes me feel good that I am doing something as opposed to doing nothing. Breaking free.