Much of this, remarkably, was envisaged by E. M. Forster in his 1909 story “The Machine Stops,” in which he imagined a future where people live underground in isolated cells, never seeing one another and communicating only by audio and visual devices. In this world, original thought and direct observation are discouraged—“Beware of first-hand ideas!” people are told. Humanity has been overtaken by “the Machine,” which provides all comforts and meets all needs—except the need for human contact. One young man, Kuno, pleads with his mother via a Skype-like technology, “I want to see you not through the Machine. . . . I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine.”Oliver Sacks, the New Yorker
He says to his mother, who is absorbed in her hectic, meaningless life, “We have lost the sense of space. . . . We have lost a part of ourselves. . . . Cannot you see . . . that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives is the Machine?”
This is how I feel increasingly often about our bewitched, besotted society, too.
“In a consumerist society, we are not meant to buy one pair of jeans and then be satisfied,” Cederström and Spicer write, and the same, they think, is true of self-improvement. We are being sold on the need to upgrade all parts of ourselves, all at once, including parts that we did not previously know needed upgrading. (This may explain Yoni eggs, stone vaginal inserts that purport to strengthen women’s pelvic-floor muscles and take away “negative energy.” Gwyneth Paltrow’s Web site, Goop, offers them in both jade and rose quartz.) There is a great deal of money to be made by those who diagnose and treat our fears of inadequacy; Cederström and Spicer estimate that the self-improvement industry takes in ten billion dollars a year.
Almost one year later, someone pointed me to Improving Ourselves to Death ☞ . Well worth a read, my friend…
Society is not some grand abstraction, my friends. It‘s just us. It’s the words we use, which are the thoughts we have, which determine the actions we take.
OK, I know … today’s Easter Monday and the sun shines and the weather is fantastic (at least here). Perfect day for going out and have a wonderful offline time. But if you’re not in such position – or mood – and want to relax at home reading something, here are my ‘classic’ five link list of posts worth a mention…
- IBM’s Quest To Design The “New Helvetica”
- Why IBM Created Its Own Typeface After A Century Without One
- Researchers can determine what smartphone a photo was taken on by analyzing it
- Why millennials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression.
- Firefox is on a slippery slope
Designers and programmers are great at inventing software. We obsess over every aspect of that process: the tech we use, our methodology, the way it looks, and how it performs.
Unfortunately we’re not nearly as obsessed with what happens after that, when people integrate our products into the real world. They use our stuff and it takes on a life of its own. Then we move on to making the next thing. We’re builders, not sociologists.
This approach wasn’t a problem when apps were mostly isolated tools people used to manage spreadsheets or send emails. Small products with small impacts.
But now most software is so much more than that. It listens to us. It goes everywhere we go. It tracks everything we do. It has our fingerprints. Our heart rate. Our money. Our location. Our face. It’s the primary way we communicate our thoughts and feelings to our friends and family.
It’s deeply personal and ingrained into every aspect of our lives. It commands our gaze more and more every day.