For the most part, in my column, nature has been the good guy, and modern technology has been the villain, at least in modern society. It is because I have tried to show that modern technology is creating a lot of sensory distortion which, in turn, is creating a lot of pathological states of mind and pathological behavior in people. When the column first began, I discussed both understimulation and overstimulation as sources of sensory distortion. But as time went on, I realized that most people were fully aware of sources of overstimulation like overcrowding in modern cities, noise pollution, air pollution, modern construction sites, and speeding highways. What they weren’t focused on were the negative effects of sources of understimulation: smooth mediated frictionless living environments and spaces like modern suburban subdivisions, highrise residence and office buildings, the interior ride of modern trains, planes and cars. And modern minimalist architecture and modern minimalist apartment and office interiors. These understimulating living environments have been what people aspired to as a means by which they could rise above the perishability of more natural and traditional living environments. At the same time, these environments generated so much numbness. And the numbness has been exaggerated by all the time spent in the mediated world of screen reality: movies, television, video games, computers, smartphones and tablets. It has also been exaggerated by the increasing encroachment of robots on modern human work activities.
On the other hand, I have painted nature and more traditional living environments as sources of grounding, oases within the larger context of the desert of modern technological society. If in the earlier history of humanity, nature was a source of constant perishability with its hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, extreme cold, extreme heat, drought, famine, disease, wild animals and poisonous plants, in more recent times, in spite of these dangerous manifestations, nature has seemed to be a good counterweight to modern technology. A source of grounding, a field of experience that provides experiential surfaces for organic imprints. A place to gain traction as one moves through life to create a narrative.
Anyway, as modern technology became more and more powerful and more and more all- encompassing, it became increasingly the enemy and nature and more traditional living environments became increasingly the good guys. Nature was that which supported our mammalian foundations with organic stimulation and prevented us from becoming robotized.
But recently certain things have happened that, on the surface at least, have shifted the way that nature and technology are being seen. As a result of encroaching on nature and its territory by eating wild animals, nature is lashing back with a horrific pandemic caused by the Corona virus. Another more global encroachment that has been occurring for a long time has been our reckless destruction of natural environments in order to use their resources and this has led to the resulting climate change-based weather events that have occurred: the melting of ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, the rising sea levels, the growing intensity of storms like hurricanes and tornadoes, the growing number of wildfires in the Western United States and in Australia. All these situations are making nature more an environment to protect oneself against, rather than an environment to commune with. Nature is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to live with and increasingly lethal.
With technology, it is ironic that the very thing that has been the tool for destroying nature in so many ways and that is provoking the extreme reactions from nature is now being increasingly valued as that phenomenon that can help to protect us against these extreme reactions. As we increasingly feel uncomfortable with nature, technology is what is increasingly clung to as our source of comfort, reassurance and grounding. And because technology appears to be in our personal lives so safe, this augments its role in human psychology as a source of both mirroring and modeling.
All of this is potentially very dangerous. If we become numb to our mammalian natures, we lose our capacity to have a lot of meaningful experience. We lose our capacity for organic bonding, both within ourselves and between us and other people. And we lose our capacity to create coherent senses of self that are capable of creating a sense of personal agency, so that we don’t act like selfless machines with interchangeable parts. And we lose our capacity to create strong deep relationships with others: family, friends, and significant others. These mammalian natures are the foundations of a society with agency so that our societies don’t become conglomerations of robots that are valued only as long as they are useful. We as individuals should be valued by others for intrinsically unique selves in the same way we value others for theirs.
And we can lose our capacities to make, preserve and receive organic imprints. By making and receiving organic imprints, we have rich vibrant lives. By preserving our imprints, we create a surrogate immortality, something which allows one to ease the passage to death, by being able to leave something of ourselves behind.
We lose our capacity to create coherent meaningful life narratives, narratives that normally allow us to turn our whole lives into journeys that by the end can hopefully make and preserve one enormous coherent imprint. Such that our lives do not simply end up being a series of disjointed robotic actions and activities.
Finally, as robotic people, we lose our sense of purpose – our sense that somehow we are living for something larger, something beyond our day-to-day actions and activities. Whether it is a religious belief, or a political belief or a social belief, something that allows us to believe we are more than just the obsolescence of our organic material body parts.
And this is why it’s very important that we go deep inside of ourselves for our mammalian roots. This allows us to more comfortably accept the reality that during the pandemic we have to use the mediation of modern technology to compensate for the social distancing this pandemic imposes on us in order to physically survive.
© 2020 Laurence Mesirow