Cracking The Egg: Nests And The Fall To Freedom

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In little more than a day I will be on a plane to China. I have never been overseas.

This departure from the country in which I have hitherto been wrapped like a baby in a blanket fills me with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation. I like to call this intrepidation: the feeling of fear you get before embarking on an adventure.

This will be an adventure for me. Instead of the reassuring semi-familiarity of Europe, I will be going into the complete unknown. I don’t know very much about China. What I have gleaned from the little Western literature I encounter has painted China as a threat, the new world power. The dragon, it seems, is to be feared.

And fear it I do. Excepting things like stories of dangerous tea-house scams, I will be entering a communist country where almost nobody speaks my language. They probably don’t even want to. I will be dealing in a foreign currency, with foreign people with foreign ways. I would be hard pressed to find a culture more alien to mine.

We grow up ensconced in our own culture. This is necessarily so, since we are raised by a few people who define our world. We grow to know good and bad from within this nurturing cocoon. We don the spectacles through which we evaluate everything. I know that this is unfashionable to say, but it might not actually be a bad thing. Yes, it often amounts to indoctrination, but to paraphrase the fathers of hermeneutics: You must know something before you can know anything.

We build our world from a basic frame of reference. All actions and events are measured against what we know and believe and judged accordingly. Without this substrate, we would have nothing to build our experience on. We would coldly collect facts, lacking the necessary architecture to make meaningful observations about them. But with a solid base built from the collection of repeating similarity, we can grasp what it means to oppose what is to us normal, and that is how we grow.

Our first steps into the world allow us to see that everything is not always as we know it. This difference allows us to think about what’s strange and re-evaluate what we have previously accepted as normal. We are given a chance to think, to feel, to grow.

The basis of any experience lies in strangeness or familiarity: The thrill of the new versus the comfort of the old. Without change, we would be unable to experience. We would be stuck inside the white limbo of The Matrix. Experience defines our existences.

It is towards this opposition that I will fly. To be shocked and scared and amazed into a place beyond my own tiny world. I am leaving to experience the otherness of others, to look at different ways of being human. I will go from my nest to be challenged.

I will go, to return more free a man.

Disconnected: The Tech That Divides Us

The family is five strong. They’ve come out together tonight to eat out. Two parents with their teenagers in tow. While waiters run the gauntlet of service, lovers stare into each other’s eyes, friends laugh, knives clink on porcelain, but in the general hubbub of dinner there is a patch of silence.

Three teenagers are sitting opposite their parents, texting.

As my heart breaks for the lack of relationship between these most intimately connected people, I fish for ways to understand this and it’s like bobbing for piranhas, painfully easy.

We are being conditioned. I have seen it. People unthinkingly answer the beep of their phones like an infant in distress. It’s become a Pavlovian reflex. I’ve had people take their phone out and reply to emails in the middle of a conversation, completely unaware of what they’re doing. We can’t get away from our ever-present connectivity. People text in meetings; at the desk; while reading, drinking coffee, shopping, making breakfast, or having dinner with family. It’s the most subversive of diseases because we never realise what is happening. We are slaves to our devices. At least we’re connecting, aren’t we?

Aren’t we?

Is there truly no difference between a hug and a digital poke? See, we’ve started trading deep connection with a few people for contact with 2000 Facebook friends. We’re inundated in contact, and we can’t keep up.

It’s understandable, really. Electronic communication is safe. You don’t have to invest yourself, you can tailor your responses. It feels like you’re connecting with someone. It’s also easy as hell. But can we be healthy on this diet of fast-food interaction?

Relationships are hard work. They require that you work at finding common ground with another person in a room filled with two people’s baggage. It takes time. It takes patience. It sometimes even leaves marks when the pain has faded. But is this not part of the human condition? Are we becoming existentially skewed?

Sal9000 has married his sweatheart, Nico Nico Douga. She’s everything he’s ever wanted in a woman. She defers to him; changes her appearance to suit his preferences; her personality has even changed to better suit his. She’s also contained on a memory card for a NintendoDS game called Love Plus.

Love Plus is a Japanese sensation. It’s a next level Tamagotchi, teaching guys everywhere that they’re the most important person in the world; that it’s better to have a bump-free relationship with a clever AI program than to slog it out with someone in the real world. Everybody should change to suit us anyway, shouldn’t they?

Technology is dividing us by offering us contact without boundaries. Contact we’ve never had before. Whether it’s the multitudes clamouring for our attention or the inward turn toward digitally encouraged narcissism, we are losing touch with what it means to connect with others. It’s even making us lose contact with ourselves.

I don’t fear for myself. I fear for the younger generation which is growing up knowing nothing else. I ache for the children at the dinner table, sitting so close to something immensely beautiful and fulfilling, and choosing something else. We are herd animals. It is not good for man to be alone, but we are growing more and more distant from the real, untruncated contact that has characterised humanity for as long as it has existed.

Now we are defined by a list of likes and dislike on a web page. Our identities were never as easy to define as that, were they? It’s personality through consumption, and it scares the hell out of me.

People will always disappoint us. Our loved ones will hurt us. Relationships will always be hard. If we keep choosing the easy path, how will we ever realise that all of this is worth it? If we don’t ever have to put the effort in, how will we know how much it pays off? How will we know love? For we are all the sum of our contradictions and love encompasses even that.

Sometimes the tar road is necessary and good, but if we never stray from its simplicity we won’t know the wonder of the forest path, of cresting a mountain and seeing the unspoilt world stretched out before us.

And us humans, we were built for wonder.

I’d like to mention this article for helping give form to the nebulousness of my thoughts:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html?_r=4&pagewanted=1

Read it. It makes some very good points.