Posted by: ritagone | May 25, 2016

Somewhere in the Middle

 

I seem to be adept at finding obscure (to most Americans, at least) British television series, current or from the past. This past weekend I watchedpublication_photo_3276 six episodes of a show called Black Mirror, which lasted two seasons several years ago. The basis of the series was three episodes each season depicting something horrifying about technology or some aspect of it.

Let me give you an example: in one episode, you could pay exorbitant amounts of money to have a chip inserted behind your ear so that your entire life could be displayed via your eyelids, your smartphone or onto a television monitor or your computer screen. In this way you could replay anything that you wanted a “do over” for, just to see how you could have done that job interview better, or how that date could have been improved. Or, if something had gone really well, you could relive it over and over again, enjoying it as much as you wanted. Sounds wonderful, until that chip began to be used to catch someone else in a lie, and then one thing led to another…and you can imagine the repercussions. Not good, to say the least. Let me just say that the marriages in the story didn’t survive!!

In another episode, power is generated by a “slave” class pedaling on stationary bicycles while watching a variety of programming on screens in front of them. As they pedal, they accumulate points. Points are subtracted for the more food you consume, the more programming you watch, points are added for the more miles you pedal. The only way out of this nightmare is to be selected to appear on an “American Idol” type program and win, whereby you become either a talk show icon or a singing star as part of the entertainment in the sleeping cubicles for the cyclists who left behind. In any of the cases there is no future that is not bleak for these cyclists, and the technology only serves to enslave them more while futilely attempting to soothe them into a false lull when they’re not pedaling. Again, not good.

Technology at its worst.

Very creatively the writers and producers pointed to a future (these were all set in the “near future” of our planet) where technology reigns supreme and has usurped many of the functions we assign right now to human interaction. It was, and I’m not exaggerating, a bit frightening, as good science fiction usually is. And it certainly did make me rethink (also what good science fiction will do) what the future is for technology and human interaction.

At the other extreme, I have several friends who have recently done the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route which is a large network of ancient walks stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James in a beautiful old church in north-west Spain.

From the Camino website: “Walking the Camino is not difficult – most of the stages are fairly flat on good paths. The main difficulty is that few of us have walked continuously for 10, 20, or 30 days. You learn more about your feet than you would ever have thought possible!”

I wonder if this is perhaps a bit misleading; I wonder if the main difficulty, more than the walking, would be, for most of us, the encouragement to walk without iPhones, iPads, and any other connections to the outside world. This is greatly discouraged on the Camino, if for no other reason than to enjoy the landscape and the chance to pray and get closer to God and your own self as you walk. No distractions, no interruptions, no agendas except to put one foot in front of the other for a certain distance each day. The people I have talked to who recently completed the pilgrimage also loved the fact that they could meet other pilgrims and allow those encounters to just naturally take place, conversations unimpeded by phones ringing or texts or emails calling for one’s attention. We are all so used to the constant interruptions of technology in our everyday lives that I don’t think we understand what our days would be like if that technology were temporarily removed.

I haven’t done the walk, I admit. But I’m sorely tempted (no pun intended) when I hear the glowing testimonies of those who are just now returning from the experience.

Everyone seems to have enjoyed so much more than the walking. They seem to have loved the time without the technology. That should tell us something profound about the way most of us are living.

Something to ponder for all of us, finding that middle road between the benefits of the technology we use and the frightening aspects of technology gone amuck in our lives. Reminds me of a line in a beautiful poem I just read by California’s poet laureate, Dana Gioia, called “The Road” (a book, incidentally, I am loving to read):

 

“He sometimes felt that he had missed his life

By being far too busy looking for it.”

 

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