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High Tech Cavemen


Jeromy Henry

Technology has changed.  People have not.

Scientific studies explain quite a bit about the modern human condition.  Watching Spongebob Squarepants makes us temporarily stupid.  Why?  The images change too fast and overwhelm our ability to process them.  We don't naturally multitask well.  Sitting in front of desks all day contributes to obesity because we've not doing the kind of constant moving around that our ancestors used to do.  Highly processed food does bad things to us.  People in developed countries don't get a normal amount of sleep.  I could go on, but I'm sure you've read the headlines.

It's not new to state that modern life is ill-suited to our biological and psychological patterns.  But I want to put forward a question.  What do we do to stop the insanity?

It's not as if what makes us essentially happy as human beings has changed all that much.  We're social animals, and people with real connections to others are healthier and happier.  How we do status-wise compared to our immediate cohort matters to our self-images.  And so on.  Having computers in our pockets that beep at us all the time does not change the fundamental makeup of our psyches.

Given that we won't have commonly available genetic manipulation and computer-enhanced brains for a few decades, at the earliest, and even assuming our species travels down that morally slippery road, right now we have to deal with ourselves as we are.  Scientists have taken a lot of trouble to try and understand what makes the human mind tick and what is healthy or unhealthy for our bodies.  We should listen to them.

I'd like to see a society that emphasizes productivity less, and pays more attention to the needs of the human body and mind.  It might mean a society with fewer luxuries, but more time to enjoy the ones it has.  We should eat more natural foods, sleep more, and spend more time talking face to face rather than staring silently at screens.

I don't suggest that we have to give up modern conveniences and go back to living in the trees, or even that we should give up TV and computers and the alternate reality they provide.  We just need to set limits and not overdo it.  We need to break the surface of the digital ocean and breathe real air once in awhile.  We need to slow down.

Unless lab-coated gods fundamentally tinker with the human spirit, that's the only path that makes sense.

While you and I wait for whatever Utopia we like best, I recommend enjoying some fine fantasy and science fiction stories.  It's a nice release because in fantasy and sf we can explore any reality we wish, however improbable.

2012-04-10 04:21:50
Ironspider - I've recently started helping my partner run an allotment; nothing exotic, just spuds and other staples. It's not just because of rising prices and neither is it a sign of an incipient mid-life crisis - I just had an urge. It's like my writing - when I get bored with what I'm reading I tend to write. We all need outlets away from the stresses of our mundane routine; I'm an office worker and my rear end is beginning to take on the dimensions of my chair seat - not good! I agree we're straying away from the parts of our neolithic heritage that we should cling to - exercise, community, a reasonable diet - and into territory better suited to a being more in tune with the the post-modern world. We don't travel fast enough to keep up, either mentally or physically, and the strain is showing. Maybe society is doomed; maybe civillisation as a whole. I think we have the mental faculties to cope, it's just the imagination we lack.

2012-04-04 10:06:29
micheledutcher - As the whole national health insurance thing shows, healthy is left for the wealthy. Vegetables are tough to buy on a limited budget. No one cares if people on the bottom die because of complications - insurance companies are counting on it for their bottom line. My nation (the US) has a lot of tough decisions to be made in the near future as the baby boomers get older and sicker. And it's easy enough to say that less stress and fewer hours in front of the computer would be a good idea, but work is killing most of us - literally. Wish I had time to make sure I don't die too soon.

2012-04-01 06:48:30
We're minimally involved in the digital craze and only reluctantly aswim on the net at our house, for good reason. Don't do the social networking sites, don't text, except in an emergency and barely do TV. We read. Even this minimalist lifestyle can occasionally be daunting. I used to joke that I was born in the wrong century when it was still the 20th--in my lifetime alone we've gone from Amelia Erhart to the International Space Station, and all that goes between. You have hit a big nail on the head here--more isn't always better, faster isn'tnecessarily safer, mind doesn't always keep up. Well, the other thing you point out is also true--choices matter. How you spend your time, and what you spend it on, determine how healthy you are and how healthy your kids are. Detach and relax whenever possible, and there isn't much wrong with doing things the slow or hard way once in a while. But technology has its uses too. Nice to read about "there and back again" but actually doing it would be like being on "survivor", and frankly, who would want to be on "survivor"? It's all in the balance you maintain.

2012-04-01 04:00:34
Good editorial. As I get older, I find myself moving more and more towards a tribal style life -with computers, but also eating better, building connections with people, and following more natural cycles. Maybe when the ancestors made the great leap from the trees, mine stumbled a bit.

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