Rebooting my blog for 2019 has been difficult. Everything seems so weird.
Like an irrigation ditch looking for a crop to water, I have been searching for a constructive approach to very troubled times. Then finally came an idea.
Maybe things seem so weird now in part because of my long view as an elder, unlike the people who were born after 1984. That was the year that the Macintosh Desktop Computer was introduced, and it may have been the beginning of the end so many headlines seem to prophesy.
The Millennials (about ages 23 to 37) weren’t born back in 1984 and are extremely tech-savvy. This screen-centered world is all they’ve ever known, so it seems normal to them.
Many feel a lot of resentment toward the elders, particularly the gray-haired members of Congress, about the mess they are inheriting—and with good reason. On the other hand, they’ve been around such a short time that they don’t understand how change headed out of the railway station in 1984 and soon turned into a bullet train with no engineer.
Maybe there was something about the young male brain (Steve Jobs was only 29 in 1984) that ignited at the possibility of coding with all those ones and zeros, but creativity certainly took off. The young geniuses had aspirations to change the world for the better, of course, and they could not possibly have imagined how their discoveries would travel in service to power, greed, and the agents of hatred and chaos.
With the long perspective of a Baby Boomer, I am very aware of the unprecedented stress everyone is under and of a general decline in the quality of life here. The latter is something we can address individually, but I’m hoping that Americans in general will all rise to the larger challenge of transforming to endure as a nation. As the year proceeds, I will be looking for reasons for hope.
I will continue with a point that may not seem obvious. After long observation, I have concluded that the value of each of us as American citizens may depend most on how much we consume. This should make us very conscious of the quantity and value of what we are purchasing, especially the technology.
Helping us to prepare is the CES conference in Las Vegas with more than 4,500 exhibitors showcasing consumer electronic products that may soon be up for sale. I was grateful for the humor in an Associated Press article that addressed this bounty.
In “Appliances get smarter and creepier,” Anick Jesdanum wrote about the Kohler toilet that will respond to voice commands to raise or lower its lid and then flush. (Any voice or do guests have to come get you?) And then there is an oven that tells you exactly where to place the turkey so it cooks properly. (In the middle of the shelf?)
There were many other products that made the imagination take off. However, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy warned that any of the devices in the show might be “tethered to some online service stealthily gathering our information.” I wonder what the toilet might find out.
In another, more serious article on CES, (“Tech’s Portal to Tomorrow” by Brian X. Chen) a representative of Comcast warned that every new “cutting edge” gadget at the conference would require an internet connection. “It’s become like oxygen,” he said, a statement that made it a little hard to breathe.
And then a friend sent another link on the conference that left me with an even more disturbing image. It was about tech robot slaughter. On the day of the CES opening, a Tesla self-driving model car ran over and “killed” an autonomous robot, the Promobot. If you look at the video of the incident here, you’ll see that the Tesla didn’t even turn around to check on the robot. Appalling.
A QUESTION ARISES
If all these examples provide a preview of what’s coming, one can’t help but ask, “Is this the kind of world I want to live in?
That question recurred as the result of an opinion piece in The New York Times by Farhad Manjoo.
He looks young in his photo, and his work titled “You Should Meditate Every Day” reveals the toll our tech-driven world is taking on his generation. He writes that he has been a technology journalist for 20 years and a “tech devotee even longer.” He has been “obsessed,” he writes, “with how the digital experience scrambles how we make sense of the real world.” It was only after four months of effort that he was able to achieve the benefits of 30 minutes of meditation, which he likened to a software upgrade for his brain.
It’s scary to think how many young people are being affected in similar ways.
But back to the Boomer perspective on consumerism. We are very familiar with the competitive shopping described as “keeping up with the Jones’s.” We have also been conditioned to shop to support the goal of economic growth and to create jobs. At the same time, it is becoming clear that technology is eliminating many jobs, and even tech corporations may layoff workers to enhance profits.
It may be time to get in closer touch with the truth of things and our own common sense. In this regard Boomer wisdom moved into the spotlight this week with yet another tech journalist named Kevin Roose. He included a little anecdote about his mother, a “relatively tech-savvy and longtime Apple fan.” However, she doesn’t want to upgrade her iPhone. “‘Why pay $800 for a new one just to be up to date?’ she asked.” Bless her.
I think the time is coming when people just get tired of churning all the new devices and are increasingly aware of the ways we are being herded around as consumers. For example, the continual updating of software for law firms keeps adding unnecessary and complicated functions they are forced to buy at high cost when the old and preferred versions cease to be supported. Tech profiteering can be ruthless. I wonder sometimes if my computer’s lifespan has been determined by an embedded, self-destruction chip.
In conclusion, perhaps hope in slowing down the bullet train lies with the Baby Boomers, all 76 billion of us, who will be the first to tire of having our world driven by the tech nerds. If so, this may express with simple decisions about whether or not to enrich with our spending the tech corporate behemoths like Apple and its investors. As consumers, and one dollar at a time, we can vote for the world we want not only to live in but also to leave for future generations. And we have a great asset to work with—brains that were fully developed (except maybe the prefrontal cortex) while we still needed them.