Friday, August 04, 2017

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

There are more and more homeless people in town.  And our town is no exception--growing numbers of homeless is an issue that seemingly every American city is dealing with.  At the same time, the economy is humming along and unemployment rate is down to 4.3 percent, which should convince anybody that homelessness is not simply an economic issue--it is not merely about poverty.

I do wonder whether the homeless, despite all the hardship, are more in tune with real life and what it means to be human than most of the rest of us who live disconnected from all things real.

We live increasingly in artificial environments.  We live online, via texts, blogs, emails, tweets, Instagrams, and--of course--Facebook.  Through most of our waking hours, we are completely disconnected from "real" and deal only with the virtual.

The homeless--the mentally competent and otherwise--deal with the real all the time.  Real people. Real heat. Real cold. Real hunger. ... So, who is really leading a real life?

The older I get, the more I worry about this.  The more there is technology, the more I worry about this.  I am reminded of the science fiction from a century ago, about which I have blogged before: E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops.

As I noted in this post two years ago:
We live in a world that Forster wrote about back in 1909.  Screen time of all kinds.  Instant messages.  Tweets and Facebook status reports and blog posts like this all passing of as knowledge, just as Forster had feared.  We have replaced real human interactions with virtual ones.  So "satisfied" with the virtual interactions, and thinking that the virtual even eliminates the need for real interactions, we seem to believe that visiting with parents, children, friends, is not needed anymore.  We live in our own cells.
We already live in a world in which the machine has taken over our lives.  The machine even knows way more about us than we do about ourselves.  We can try to run from it, but we can never hide from the machine.

And, of course, homelessness is especially worse in cities that are home to the creators of the machine.  Like San Francisco and the Silicon Valley.   It is a bizarre juxtaposition of affluence and unimaginable high technology, versus shaggy men and women pushing carts mumbling to themselves.

The digital high tech industry is rapidly leading us into an increasingly virtual world, where we humans become disposable.  We real humans matter less and less to the machine.  We humans, in turn, care less and less about all things real.
Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives in the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It was robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops - but not on our lies. The Machine proceeds - but not to our goal. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die.
Click here to read The Machine Stops, if you have never read that before.
The blog-post resulted from reading this book review essay in the LRB.


Ramesh said...

Interesting you blog about this. Remember RuralShores, the rural employment social enterprise that I am associated with. The founders decided to open an operation in the US saying that job creation is as much of a problem in the US as it is in India. And they decided to focus on the youth, especially disadvantaged segments - homeless, orphans and reformed substance abusers. The first pilot centre has come up in San Diego. I am given to understand that there are some 20,000 such people in just San Diego !

I am becoming a staunch supporter of social enterprises, which mix traditional business with a particular social objective.

Sriram Khé said...

How fascinating that a rural employment social enterprise in India is also looking at an American problem!
Yes, the system that is all about survival of the fittest easily ignores the disadvantaged. In the old days, we counted on the government to address these. But, the party that actively encourages the survival of the fittest has systematically gutted various government initiatives. If NGOs and social enterprises do not step in, well, ... so, yes, good for RuralShores for this approach

Most read this past month