Faster Than the Speed of Nanites

The following is an edited version of an email I sent a friend who sent me an picture of a commuter train platform brimming with people engrossed in various electronic gadgets; no one seemingly aware of anyone else.

When I rode the TTC (Toronto Transit System) to work 30 years ago, the majority of travelers were reading newspapers or books rather than engaging in conversation; perhaps the issues are deeper and older than Apple and gadgets. While some of my traveling companions then seemed to be wrapped up in work-related activity, many were reading for pleasure. Now some are playing games while others are clearly engaged in work, even if not ‘on the clock’. Common wisdom says there are more involved in the latter than in my day; I don’t know for sure.

Perhaps playing the most basic, mindless of games or reading 100 word blurbs (labeled ‘articles’) is hardly comparable to doing advanced level crossword puzzles or reading thoughtful articles in actual journals. We have a society flooded with sound-bites, a 24 hour news cycle, advertising based on a 15 second attention span- information overload. Too much information to remember it all, much less ‘process it’ (we used to call that doing analysis or thinking; processing used to be a manufacturing term…. )

For that matter, do we really need to be spending all our time awake “improving ourselves” and fighting to be able to enjoy life only on weekends or after we retire? Now that’s often after the age of 70 if we make it that far. The pressure to be a ‘team player’ and the endemic of sleep deprivation is a real issue as well. But we must keep our focus.

On the one hand I agree that some people seem addicted to their “toys”. On the other hand some people are addicted to Rx drugs or sex or otherwise ensnared in self-destructive behaviours. Addiction is a real problem that is too often ignored; but it can’t be an easy excuse. And an addict is not helped by blaming the addiction. Nor blaming their supposed ‘lack of moral fibre; addiction is a medical/ biochemical condition that needs be treated.

Perhaps the problem, or one major foundation, is that schools are afraid to teach Responsibility or How To Think. Some parents say that schools should not “teach morals” while others demand schools teach only their preferred moral system; no wonder public schools feel they can’t win. Add in teaching to standardized tests, budget cuts, parents demanding athletic programmes over ‘the arts’ in hopes of their child earning a scholarship to over-priced schools, ‘creationism’ as a pseudo-science and people being famous for being famous rather than for actual talent, hard work and dedication…

In which case the solution is not to just condemn or merely treat the symptom(s). Curing the disease would mean confronting Corporatism and Consumerism… admittedly a big challenge.

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