Late last year, I read an article that left me with that feeling you get occasionally- where it’s like a few loose ends finally tie together, the last remaining pieces of the puzzle slot into place and at last, you can see the full picture…
For me, this hunch had started sometime in 2013, and over the 5 years since it gradually took form at the back of my mind, just beyond full grasp, like that childhood lolly jar on the high shelf. Then finally, here was the answer, laid out clearly in one article:
If you read this piece later (and I strongly recommend you do), what it says is (essentially) that we’ve ridden ourselves of a sense of community or an identity with an underlying culture- instead replacing it with watered-down conformity and a reliance on consumerism and entertainment to define ourselves. It’s made us hollow, lacking a real soul or identity, susceptible to marketing fads and crafting an identity we think is unique, but has (in fact) been planned by clever marketers and advocated by media.
This, apparently, is what we call “progress”. Now, I was aware of all this to some degree before I read the article. I’d observed it, felt something curiously “off” about the type of person described in this article, but couldn’t quite explain why (which is some feat when you write for a living.) But now, seeing those final pieces slot into place, I realise that it’s the underlying reason why I’ve long held the conviction that newer aint necessarily “better”. Let me get one thing straight, though-
I’m not what you’d call a “technophobe”. I’m writing this post from my Macbook, I’m grateful for the gadgets on my iPhone and the opportunities the internet has provided to myself and millions of other people like me, worldwide. Were it not for at least two of the three things I mentioned just then, you wouldn’t be reading this article right now!
So my skin doesn’t prickle at new technology, and like I said, I’m truly grateful for all the developments and innovations in communication technology over the last century. In many ways, we’re living the dream. But…
I just can’t understand our society’s widespread obsession with acquiring the newest, latest, shiny thing? Like sure, a great marketing campaign works wonders, and I get the appeal of more convenience (even if in many cases, convenience is actually a bad thing for us- but that’s for another discussion altogether). I don’t get the mentality of people who give up a day of their lives to camp out, just so they can be the first person in their social group to own Apple’s newest gadget.
Does it give their life or their sense of identity something it would otherwise lack? Is it all dependant upon the output of a billion dollar corporation in Silicon Valley for their sense of purpose?
This widespread obsession with the next big thing, with “progress” and automatically assuming progress is a good thing- it sets us on a dangerous path. First of all, it leads us to believe we never have enough, and to never be content. We lose our sense of gratitude and the abundance mentality. If you’re reading this right now and using internet to do so then congratulations- you have abundance in your life. Of course, there’s always room for improvement- I’m glad I don’t need to write this on a typewriter and disconnect my landline to use the internet. But…
Often, an established system or product is there for a valid reason. There may be legitimate reasons to tinker with what we’ve got, but throwing it out completely for the new thing often leaves a bigger void than we think. And it creates more problems that a little patience and foresight might have avoided:
We build faster cars and then require more stringent safety features.
We introduce new lock-out laws and then the Police have to deal with hundreds of drunken people all taking to the streets at the same time.
We develop more personalised internet accounts and communication devices that offer us more widespread use and convenience if we just enter our details- then have to ramp up our security measures to deal with the hackers and scammers.
Basic, obvious truths have to be sugar-coated or suppressed altogether in case somebody takes offence- and then we wonder why there are so many “keyboard warriors” and why simple exchange of ideas and theories has become such a complex, frustrating process.
We want the manual work all done for us by automation and the sweet taste of sugar with everything- then wonder why we’re lacking in motivation and the teeth meant to last a lifetime are falling out of our heads?
And this is “progress”?
We live in an age where we have instant communication with one another, no matter where we are in the world. I could not just talk to my sister and my brother in-law from the UK and hear their voices in real-time. I could see their faces too, see the weather from outside the window of their place in Bath, see the state of their house and the colour of their clothing. We have easy access to gratification of all 5 of our senses, on a near-instant basis. All our basic needs are met. All the information we could want can be found through a simple device that fits in our pocket.
We’re more disconnected, disillusioned and misinformed than ever before. In an age obsessed with “equality”, there are increasing lines that divide us into micro tribes based on factors that go far beyond our political, religious or ideological leanings. Respectful debate and the art of listening has become an increasingly rare commodity. Who has the patience for that, when it’s much easier to imagine your moral and intellectual superiority to a caricature?
In short- we may live in an age of material wealth, but it’s also an age of spiritual and emotional poverty.
So obsessed are we in our drive for more “progress”, for more financial and material currency, that we’ve neglected interest in our social and spiritual currency. We turn to the personalities on TV for our social guidance and the manifestation of billions of dollars spent by advertisers to validate us, instead of relying on our family, friends and community. In place of religions we’ve apparently out-grown, we now rely on sports fandom, pop-culture obsession and shifting, empty tribalism to give us a sense of belonging and destiny.
What’s the achievement in clocking the hottest new console game if we remain a slave to our most basic impulses and desires?
What’s the point of opening Tinder to find 10+ new matches if we’re clueless and panicky at the thought of approaching that attractive stranger at the train station or the supermarket and engaging them in conversation?
What do we gain from sharing every little detail of where we go, what we eat, what we’re watching or how we’re feeling on social media if we don’t bother to catch up with our friends regularly for a barbeque, golf game, picnic, road-trip or even just to sit on the porch with them, esky at our side watching the storms come in of a summer’s evening?
Like I said, I’m absolutely grateful for this information age we live in- it’s literally provided me with a living and the opportunity to start a business and build up every rung how I want it to be.
But in spite of this?
I refuse to accept “progress” for progress’ sake. I refuse to hand over my identity or sense of purpose to marketing firms or media organisations to shape how they see fit. I refuse to imagine myself a “free-thinker” while demonising anybody simply because they disagree with me.
It’s a journey we must take for ourselves, beyond outside influencers. We listen to those we trust most along the way, and that’s how we find our own true identity, our soul, our sense of purpose.
It’s only then that we find true progress…