In this age of smartphone technology most people are distracted pretty much most of the time. Constant inattention can and will have serious implications for this and future generations. Many people are not aware of the fact that they are almost constantly distracted. We tend to have an almost addictive need for some kind of emotional engagement and smartphones fill this need on a number of different levels, very effectively. In fact they have been designed with just this need in mind.
Various kinds of social network messaging, digital games, news and or information feeds can keep us engaged for inordinate amounts of time and in one way we may feel more connected than ever before and yet, ironically, the levels of disconnection in our societies and among our young people are higher than ever before.
As artificial intelligence begins to penetrate our lives in various subtle and invasive ways we would do well to take into account what this can mean and how it can affect the way we live. There are not many of us who have not experienced the frustration of trying to sort out a problem on the phone and having to deal with a digital answering service. Certainly the changes now taking place are unprecedented in both the speed with which these technologies are being developed and the manner in which they will completely change our mode of living.
“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction; the world will have a generation of idiots.” These words have been attributed to Albert Einstein but regardless of whether this is in fact true or not, they are relevant and sound out as a clarion call. May we wake up in time and shake ourselves out of our zombie-like infatuation. It appears that a whole, vast section of humanity is sleep walking. Will we look up from our devices long enough to actually notice that we are distracted in the first place and from what we are distracted in the second?
It is not that this is anything particularly unique to our current civilization. As says the Biblical injunction; there is nothing new under the sun. We may think we are on the cutting edge of technologies that have never before seen the light of day and yet countless civilisations have passed through this earthly realm and the remnants of their passing are a continuing cause of wonder and mystery to many in this current day and age. Whatever the mind is capable of dreaming up and even what has not yet been dreamed, all these things are possible and can and will become manifest in due course of time, if the will to manifest them arises. This is the innate power of the mind.
What has not changed however, is our perpetual state of distraction in one form or another. The fact is that these emerging technologies can capitalise on this apparent human weakness to target and harvest our attention on a massive scale never before witnessed. We should all be alert to the implications of this. What we see happening now with the rise of modern technologies which have quickly become seemingly indispensable to the vast section of humanity in just the brief space of a few decades, is at base just more of the same old, same old… There may be a new look, a new flavour, a new brand, but strip that all away and our basic human instincts continue to propel us all in the same old direction.
We can dress up our confused emotions, we can varnish over the fundamental impulses which propel us through life, but century after century, decade after decade and day after day, they remain intact and they are the motivating force behind all that is manifest in this world. This is and remains the case as much now as it was a thousand years ago. What is troubling now is the fact that this trend is being directed by a by tiny minority. If we loose our attention, we loose our power. If we are not aware of or have never considered what impact the current technologies are having on our human civilisations then it is certainly time to become aware now! As long as we remain subject to the ebb and flow of our hopes and fears we cannot know our true inner freedom and at this time and in this age we are so vulnerable en-mass to being manipulated by a minority. The sheer scale of what is taking place, virtually unnoticed, is indeed a cause for concern. When a minority is capable of quietly manipulating whole populations for gain and profit can we call this anything other than a negative trend?
When a whole civilisation appears to be sleep walking towards a precipice we do indeed face a grave danger. Is it not intrinsically against the whole ideal of democracy to intentionally keep the mass of humanity distracted by what is unimportant? If we create devices that are geared to monopolise our attention and keep it focused on the trivial instead of the vital we can imagine what the outcome might be. Don’t we have a moral obligation to wake up and notice what is really happening here? It is up to each one of us. And there is a tapping at the door of our awareness. The inmost core within each and every one of us is trying to get through, trying to jolt us out of our torpor.
Do you ever get the feeling that something is missing in your life? You should trust that feeling because it is a true one. Something is missing in your life. It’s called attention. If our attention is hijacked by a mobile phone or some other kind of smart device do we not then become the plaything of that device or thinking which has created it? Where is our cherished freedom if our ability to avoid the subtle manipulation, inherent in the designs of modern technological innovations, is woefully inadequate. There is something infinitely more dangerous about an addiction which slips into our lives unnoticed. Modern technologies exploit people’s impulses thereby robbing them of the ability to choose wisely.
Learning to pay attention to our attention is a very crucial piece of advice. It points to something utterly fundamental about our existence. Do we really notice what is going on around us if we are distracted? We loose our inherent freedom the moment our attention is compromised. Smartphones are not only very efficient in creating a vacuum in our lives, but they are equally efficient in seeming to fill that vacuum as well. The moment our concentration is directed towards something or other, then, in that moment, whatever it is that we are perceiving becomes our world. This is what is meant by the spiritual dictum that we so often hear and yet fail to truly understand. Namely; nothing has an inherent existence in and of itself. Another way of saying this is; what ever our mind is drawn to, that is our reality in that moment.If something or someone hijacks our attention we become little better than automatons, walking zombies moving past one another in the vast ocean of time and space, scarcely even aware of each other or of the fact that we exist at all.
We don’t need any evidence that this is in fact already the case, we have proof of it in every direction that we may turn our gaze in our so called modern and technological societies. These technologies have entered our lives and are completely and utterly changing the ways we live and think and behave. We urgently need to become aware of just how pervasive and insidious these changes really are. In our so-called money economy it is regarded as perfectly acceptable to manipulate people’s attention in order to capture that attention and direct it towards a product. Isn’t this the very basis of capitalism? Therefore capitalism is geared towards exploiting human vulnerabilities for monetary gain. Smartphones have already become tools of mass manipulation on a scale, the likes of which we have not seen before. This is a deeply worrying trend and deserves our thoughtful attention. Ultimately all of this leads to nothing but a profound and insidious disconnection from who and what we really are. If we are not in control of our attention, then something or someone else is…We can be absolutely sure that if we feel that something is missing in our lives, it most assuredly is our attention. In days to come we will be forced to grapple with this problem head-on. Given how pervasive our distraction has already become, this will be a mammoth undertaking.
We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.
And herein lies our salvation if we can in fact rise to the challenge. We will have to recognize what has always been nearest and dearest. It has become an urgent necessity to expand our vision beyond the current distraction and pre-occupation with smart devices of one kind or another, towards what is fundamental to our very existence.
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