Sunday, February 23, 2014

Digital Technology And The Need For Immediate Gratification

            In previous articles, I have discussed the accelerating rate of technological change in the modern world.  I have pointed out that this accelerating rate is dangerous, because we are losing control of how our society is evolving as a whole.  The growing control from and complexity of this technology is creating a seductive model and mirror for humans, such that they are becoming more and more like the advanced machines they use.

            As a result, just as modern machines are doing things quicker and quicker, so human activity is speeding up as well.  And human expectations now for results of their activities are such that people expect things to be done practically instantaneously.  There is little tolerance for slow careful movements.  People more and more want things done right now.  They want to move from point a to point b without having to traverse the space that separates them.  And, of course, much that happens on the computer does occur in this instantaneous way.  Make a few clicks on a shopping website, put in your credit card number, and you’ve bought something.  Go to a travel website, make a few clicks, put in your credit card number, and you’ve got yourself a plane ticket.  This is the nature of digital activity.  Go from the discrete entity of point a to the discrete entity of point b without having to participate in one organic blendable continual flow of activity over continual time.  The human journey is eliminated.  All that matters is the goal.  In cyberspace, this has a particular importance, because if one has to wait too long between point a and point b, one ends up in a numbing experiential vacuum.  There is no real opportunity for organic participation in a process, the way that there would be in normal primary experience in the external world.

            In the digital world, process is seemingly eliminated or, at best, it is cut up into discrete moments.  And this has a profound effect on the minds of young humans as they grow up and evolve and configure in such a world.  Young people are becoming very, very different from what humans have been up until now.

            If a person becomes accustomed to going from point a to point b without any flowing process in between, then he becomes addicted to immediate gratification.  He wants everything now.  He wants to go from wish to results without any primary experience journey in between.  And this applies to more than just purchasing books and shirts and plane tickets online.  It applies to doing research online without having any reason to do research exploration in a real world university library.  Click on the fact or idea that you are looking for and then get out of the website.  And this attitude applies to wanting a person to do something for you when you want it done, and not when it is convenient for the other person to do it for you.  It certainly applies to a person looking at another person as an object that satisfies short-term sexual needs, rather than as a person who can be a long-term romantic partner.  In a larger sense, it means thinking of always satisfying all personal needs directly and immediately rather than bothering to include the needs of other people in the loop.

            People who have grown up with computers have modeled themselves after computers and have developed wants and expectations based on the speed and effortlessness of digital processes.  The only problem with this is that part of the joy and satisfaction with reaching a goal is the potentially rich vibrant flowing process that has been traditionally necessary to achieving it.  This rich vibrant flowing process, which often includes discomfort and even pain, becomes a rich vibrant experience in which the person who goes through it has the opportunity to make, preserve and receive organic imprints.  These organic imprints are much more important in supplying deep fulfilling satisfaction than the products, services and life situations that are the ostensive goals of the wants and expectations.  Without the journey, one is in an experiential vacuum, with the products, services and life situations that are the objects of our wants and expectations being just free-floating figures – physical and mental – that are ungrounded in any important life contexts or meanings.  Without these contexts and meanings, our goals don’t really satisfy.

            Because our digitized goals don’t satisfy, people feel a need to reach them over and over again in order to finally experience satisfaction from the attainment of the goal.  This is the foundation of an addiction.  There is no making or receiving of imprints buying a new sweater  online the way there is from going to a store, trying on sweaters, and asking the opinion of the salesperson or of a friend or family member one has brought along.  There is no real journey to the sweater.

            When one buys a book online, one gives up the opportunity of strolling through the aisles of a book store, thumbing through the pages of different books, and talking with a bookseller (in a smaller store) about what his recommendations might be.  Such an experience in a bookstore becomes a form of intellectual hunt.  
            As discussed in previous articles, an addiction is a way to get kicks from the overstimulation of tension pockets in the living environment, from static stimulation that pulls a person out of the numbness that comes from the vacuum foundation of modern technological environments.  Living on a smartphone, tablet or computer  as many young people do, in order to constantly shoot texts back and forth or post shocking pictures back and forth, precludes their having the opportunity to take meaningful life journeys in the real world of primary experiences. These journeys form the foundation for meaningful life stories, meaningful preserved organic imprints.  Repeatedly clicking on the goals of products, services or life situations like online  groups gives a person a kind of kicks that replaces the lack of meaningful imprints from primary experience.

            No wonder that so many young people today seem spoiled.  What I’m talking about is not the kind of spoiled that comes from a parent giving their child everything he wants except the love he craves, although perhaps there is a parallel.  It is not the parent that is in a position to directly give a child everything he wants today.  Although the parent may pay for things, it is the computer that gives them.  And the computer gives a child all the free-floating figures of products, services, and life situations that he wants, but not the organic grounding that he craves.  With organic grounding, there is the possibility of meaningful imprints within the framework of meaningful life journeys.

            So many of our goals today have become the equivalent of digital “ones” that exist against a vacuum backdrop of digital “zeroes”.  The need exists for immediate gratification, because we are searching for goals that exist apart from the grounding of organic life experiences.

            And this brings us back to the experience of time in the digital age.  If life activity consists of jumping from point a to point b with no flowing process in between, then life is experienced as chopped-up moments with no meaningful coherence to the activity.  And because our senses of self exist over time and are experienced over time, chopped-up activity over time leads to a chopped-up sense of self.  The easy use of a computer to obtain everything leads to the loss of the flowing journeys of life which are fundamental to the strong flowing continual coherence of a sense of self over time.  The very experience of the broken up digital kicks of momentary satisfactions separated by emptiness, the basis of a digital addiction, leads to a fragmented sense of self.

            So, in the long run, the predisposition to immediate gratification engendered by today’s digital technology results in a dangerous threat to the psychological survival of human beings.  Without coherence of self, humans become vulnerable to being transformed into the very kind of machines that at present serve them.  People become what they use.

(c) 2014 Laurence Mesirow

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