Even before the digital age, in the age of modernity, a lot of attention was given to the problem of alienation. City life seemed more alienated than country life. There were people who felt they were little cogs in a big machine. They resented the work they did. As Chaplin described it so well, man was made to feel like a robot… an accessory to the machines that were supposed to save time and enable us to reach still greater accomplishments. Many of those early complaints have since been solved. Our lives have been getting easier for some time now. And those of us who want it, have more leisure time than ever before.
But the problem of alienation has continued to threaten us. It seems worse now than ever before. Not only are we alienated from our fellow man, but we find ourselves disconnected from our own roots, tastes, and personal space. Some sixty years ago, we discovered the advantages of shopping in the supermarket. It was fun for a while; easier and less time consuming than making our purchases in a number of little ‘mom & pop’ stores. It seemed cleaner to buy a steak wrapped up in nylon, divorced from the sight and sound of the cows who were slaughtered to make that steak. And easy too, to buy a Mac burger from a ‘drive through’ window, and get inexpensive food immediately. It was around that time, that we found shirts that didn’t need to be ironed, and could see far away places and enjoy live entertainment on TV.
We had hardly gotten used to the idea that we could keep milk and cheeses, meat, and cooked meals in the refrigerator… and then there were refrigerators that didn’t need to be defrosted. In every area of our life, there were vast improvements. But the changes never stopped. They kept on going, and always faster.
Nowadays, when I go into a supermarket, I feel coerced to buy more than I want. What’s this business of ‘two for the price of one’? I don’t want anonymous presents. I want to buy goods at a fair price, and to decided myself, whether I’ll buy one or two. And food… Do I really want to buy meat that was made from animals who never walked around… who were imprisoned in tiny cubicles, and fed an unnatural diet including antibiotics so they’d grow faster? Do I want to eat vegetables and fruit that have been created by an alteration of their genetics, or an implantation of foreign DNA?
Do I want my relations with my fellow man to be of the facebook variety… with little tweets from my friends by way of Twtter? A few weeks back, I was searching for recent literature that was inspiring and had a positive view of life. I got a lot of recommendations, and I have begun reading those books that were mentioned. But there were also people who wrote to me, asking, with all the wealth of literature that has been produced in the last two thousand years, why would I concentrate on that which has been published in the last twenty? The answer, of course, is that I felt out of date… and wanted to know if I’d missed something important. But we can ask ourselves the same question when it comes to life style. Do we really want to limit ourselves to the latest inventions and applications or would we prefer to have the choices provided by the many stages of history.
At the beginning of the digital age, we learned that we could do many things easier and faster with the help of the computer. We could alter and improve our photography with the press of a button. We could revise a document without having to copy all of the text in order to incorporate a few changes. We could design a home or an airplane a lot better and easier with computer tools. But now, with the advent of the ‘cloud’ we discover that we are no longer in possession of our own documents. They’re always available, but no longer in our hands. We can’t help but wonder if they still belong to us, or are they just ours on loan? The computer, that valuable tool has become indispensable. But we are more or less forced to update it every day.
Our telephone has become our musical library as well as a camera and a computer, with ready access to the internet, our social networking, and answers to all our questions… It’s not just a means of communication, but an indispensable learning tool. However, in order to keep up with the progress made in that technology, we have to buy a newer model every so often… sometimes before we’ve even learned all the tricks available in the previous model. And despite all the ‘time saving’ gadgets, there’re a lot of people complaining that they don’t have time for anything. They might have more ‘virtual’ friends than ever before. But lately, they don’t even have the time to send ‘likes’ to all those virtual friends. And they certainly don’t want to offend anyone. Because if all this ‘liking’ stopped… why, we’d feel so very much alone.
The illustrations on this post are from the horse ranch in Tzur Hadassah, where I am presently residing, as a temporary resident. If the dog is man’s best friend, the horse used to be his most trusted servant. The horse wasn’t an app. He had a mind of his own. He enjoyed creature comforts… and in his own way, he could talk to the man he worked with.
He had his reservations and his criticisms. But he also had loyalty. And often, affection for his master. On occasion, he could find his way home better than the man, woman, or child who was driving. He or she could offer comfort at times of sorrow, and never went so fast that one lost complete control. Of course, there’s no room for horses in our city lifestyle anymore. Once an integral part of our day to day life, he is now relegated to the role of a hobby. But there are a few of us still left in this world, who aren’t willing to limit our life experiences to what’s available on the latest iphone or other fantastic gadget. It’s our choice, after all. We can choose between spending an afternoon sending likes to 365 of our closest virtual friends, or sitting down for a cup of tea and biscuit with the old lady at the end of the road… or ride ‘Old Paint’ past the city limits, down the canyon… don’t even have to wear a safety belt.