The Erosion of our Sense of Self: My Generation’s Transcendence of Planet Earth

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I am constantly wondering about the effects that technology has on us. This is unconquered terrain: apart from studies on cognitive ability of excessive users and children, there have been no major insights and research in science, largely because this revolution is still in the stages of its youth. Technology has infiltrated our lives like a virus: approaching from the fringes, and now, it is slowly finding its way into our body, becoming one with us, mimicking our functions.

Ultimately, technology is a tool – it is an extension of the body used to enhance our senses. In this definition, of course, I am not covering AI – but that’s a whole other story. But I am not overly interested in the useful aspects of technology and handheld devices, but more so the effect that they have on how we perceive ourselves. And this self-image is no longer constructed out of sensorial input of our own, and our reasonings about our interests, friends, and family – but our image, displaced carefully like charcuterie on a pixel plate is filtered through our consciousness of the hundreds of people that are exposed to the samples of ourselves we chose to expose to the world. And it is a positive correlation – the higher the social pressures (ie more followers, more attention), the more selective the material we chose to exhibit becomes. We have lost our complexities when people can quickly make a judgement on our character and social status merely by browsing our Instagram our Facebook page. We post pictures to make ourselves seem richer, kinder, smarter and more driven and ambitious. We strive to make our life seem full of adventure, spontaneity and amusement even when we are in the darkest of times. Who are we trying to impress? Where is this social pressure coming from – how can human beings create such a dismal collective environment? And somehow, through this explosion of variety, of heterogeneity, of thousands of diverging opinions and options and photos and videos, through a continuous stream of content that riddles our days and nights, lighting up the walls of our consciousness, we are becoming the same. Those who are different are alienated, and those who speak out about this problem are only attempting to be absorbed back into the beast of society. Why do the girls I surround myself with all try to look the same? I am aware of the fact that I live in an extreme case of this environment, but even those who feign to be different are on the same spectrum of social conformity.

Through technology, we are policing ourselves. We are all becoming protectors of the same collective agenda, and are drawing tighter the strings on the centre, the absolute. The instantaneity of communication is a vice grip on freedom, and ties us even tighter to the voluntary enslavement that is our constructed image.

Some may argue that connectivity in social media has led to an increased sense of self – but I would argue that there is a difference between our self-perception and our identity. Through the media, everyone is labelled, whether they are a “hipster,” a “feminist,” whether they are “popular” or “artsy” or “sporty.” The way we label and categorize ourselves is reductive and corrosive on our self-perception because there is simply no way that the complexity of a regular human being can be justified through these shallow labels. It is easy to construct a perceptible identity by amassing recognizable visual and textual clues in our accounts. This, in many ways, is destructive on the culture of youth. Because in social media, some thrive, while the majority are left behind, publicly isolated. And this is exacerbating regular social imbalances that have existed since the beginning of our culture as we know it today.

When we divert so much of our consciousness on to artificial and entirely constructed interfaces, we lose our sense of self and our sense of being. On the internet, you cannot simply “be” – you cannot simply exist. There is no sense of a passive existence where identity is defined by active social interaction. We are no longer conscious of this existence when we subject ourselves to this constant stream of stimulation. The danger is that this stimulation is, in essence, cognitively rewarding: our brains are programmed to respond positively to social interaction, learning, visual and mental stimulation, music, humour, etc. These are all things that technology has provided a steady steam of, and, when regarded in isolation, are ultimately positive. But what is the effect of this bombardment of information? We find ourselves searching for content in what is ultimately devoid of it. There is no humour in the trees, and as much as we wander the forest, there will never be a strong cognitive award as easily attainable as scrolling through our Facebook feed. This is further contributing to the disconnect that I have dedicated this blog, and, probably, my life to understanding. But when we are no longer conscious of our presence in the ‘here,’ and have diverted our attention to the constructed, and the artificial, one could argue that our presence begins to fade from the physical surface of the earth. I do not yet understand the metaphysical implications that come with the gradual disappearance of humanity from the ‘here’ and ‘now,’ but it does seem to be in accordance with the the general trend toward a disinterested attitude in nature and the nascent interest in the gradual departure from our planet. We are no longer beings of nature – we are beings of technology.

It took me a very long time to come to terms with my “educated” perception on the future of humanity. Before I went to university, I was always completely bound to the idea that we were one with nature, and that once we defied her, she would exert her wrath, and just like that, we would be finished. However, through my studies of humanities, I have developed a strange (and perhaps unjustifiable) belief in the pervasiveness of our institutions. It seems that we are destined to outgrow this planet. Our cultural, intellectual and material revolutions all seem to reflect the same trend towards eternal growth, progress and consumption that are so poignantly visible in the way we conduct our lives today. Humanity seems to be immortal – and perhaps soon, when we all exist in virtual reality, it will be. The glorification of science and its inherent dissection of natural principles seems to point to eternal progress – and the optimist within me wants to believe it. Soon, there will no longer be profit that can be made here, and we will have to outsource it, just like the colonial empires once did, and just like we are with the perpetual creation of markets nowadays. However, these beliefs I hold are irreconcilable with my environmental perspective, and it will take me a long time to construct a belief system that can accommodate these two views.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the elevation off of our home planet comes not only with our economy, but also with the gradual mental transcendence of the ‘here’ and ‘now’ that is already evident in youth culture today. Maybe we are unconsciously conditioning ourselves for our departure: if we do not know what we have, it will be easier to leave. When our values disproportionately shift to social interaction and cultural content, it is easy to leave everything else behind. It’s easy to see today. Farms are eating the forest. Cities are eating the farm. Industrial complexes sprawl over what were once the rolling hills, and the ocean is bleached through our waste, infiltrated by plastic particles from our clothes. We empty the seas of their fish, plow down habitats and wildflowers, drain the freshwater reservoirs, and poison the rivers. It rains acid and blows pollution. However, this perpetuity is irrelevant if it doesn’t trigger the receptors that are becoming more and more conditioned to novelty and instantaneous reward. Though large-scale environmental issues may “trend,” and amass unimaginable amounts of attention for a short period of time, they are quickly forgotten, and the exploitation may continue.

The loss of our sense of place is not merely metaphysical: it also occurs due to the standardizing and globalizing aspects of the media. Something occurring in Taiwan may be just as relevant as something occurring in our home country. I am not making a case for nationalism – but the human sense of place is being completely lost. When we exist in the “there,” we lose our connection with the “here.” And this leads to a complete severance from nature. Our home is in our heads, and the value we may have once received from exposure to the outdoors in non-existent. This predicament does not only have environmental consequences (though I do tend to stress those), but also has mental effects. We, the youth, are wandering the canyons of the internet, pilgrims of ideas, navigators of the stormy seas of politics, surveyors of the gorges of social justice, explorers of the unconquered swaths of internet culture. And through the transfer of our explorative efforts from the physical reality of our planet, and the transfer of values from tangible reality to our media personas, we further float away from the cradle where our ancestors were raised, where our instincts were programmed, and where our primal drives were inscribed. And maybe – maybe this is how it was meant to be – maybe it is time for our departure.

And hereby I will say goodbye on behalf of my generation –

 

-farewell, mother nature, we are leaving the Earth behind.

 

The Tragic Disconnect

In observance of my generation, again and again I remark how truly disconnected we are. And how illogical this seems when the vast and intricate net technology has woven over our cities is taken into account. People, groups, companies and corporations are constantly connecting and disconnecting. We are packed like sardines into towering skyscrapers and subway cars and busy intersections. Cities have grown like never before, their boundaries truly without limit and the possibilities of the metropolis have become endless. No longer are we creatures of the ground; we occupy every stratum of the earth. These cities that we have built attract people from the far corners of the world, because they offer prosperities of economic and social quality, however they are organisms of mass pollution, injustice and hostility that comes in forms never before seen.

The question torments me – are we creatures of our culture, or are we creatures of nature? Where should our loyalty lie? It is true that urbanization accelerated and debatably even instigated our development into rational, intelligent and conscious beings. The social, economic and political infrastructure created in towns and cities provided a scaffolding without which progression would have been made impossible. They have equipped us with the tools which we needed to create an enlightened society. However, today, the opposite seems to be true. Our cities are dominated by corporations, targeted advertisement, crime, isolation, segregation and corporate architecture. The home, where we have carefully constructed our culture, which serves as our identity, has turned on us. Because what pervades today cannot be counted into our identity, unless a new one is nascent, being one of cruel bigotry, ignorance and mass complacency. With urbanization comes the question – are we truly meant to live in these mega-complexes?

Having spent a majority of my childhood outdoors, in tree tops and billowing cornfields and on stream beds and in the dappled shade of spruce forests on the seaside, scathed by the marine wind and tangled in Spanish moss, I feel a connection, or even a commitment to nature that is without parallel in nearly everyone my age. I think that this connection has given me a different vantage point from which I can observe the trivial occupations of my peers almost impartially. No one seems to care about the environment anymore. Our economy has trumped all, and environmentalism has been deemed unprofitable. And no, by environmentalism I do not mean the advocation of clean or alternative energies, of recycling, of reduced carbon emissions or bicycling to work. By environmentalism I mean a deep-rooted naturalism, the belief that our surroundings are to be protected because they provide for us, and an understanding for nature that is not taught, but learned first-hand. This naturalism is not one of religiosity, of new-ageism of anarchism or of leftist anti-capitalism (though the two all-too-often go hand in hand).

In our cities, we are raised in a concrete cage. We have built walls and tunnels and fences and causeways around us and can no longer move freely. Nature has become ornament, and its value is only understood commercially. In the wild, ethereal states of minute fragility create a whole that is resistant and fortified, while in the city, our slabs of rock and iron and steel come together to expose an unsettling tenuousness. As to the children of cities: they are raised orphans, with no knowledge of the ever-present undercurrent that pervades our existences. Adopted by the city, their loyalties are tied into the sidewalks and i-beams and the fragile roofs over their heads, and they are immediately exposed to a state of decay rather than one of growth. These children will always be wanderers, but never pilgrims or explorers. These children will seek security in material things, because they have never experienced true value. However, most unfortunately of all, these children will participate in the lifestyle of destruction that was held by so many of their parents without knowing it at all, because they only have a disconnected apprehension of what is at stake. And here we are – a generation that does not know how to distinguish one plant from another, one whose children cannot name vegetables, one that places its value on social status and interaction rather than anything meaningful, because it grew up in an environment where this meaning could never be experienced. Have we truly graduated to become an exclusively cultural entity, or do we still owe legitimate loyalty to our surroundings?