It is beautiful. Clear, crisp, and blue. The sky is reminding me the world I occupy is beautiful. I can hear the birds sing. The cars that pass by push warm air around my body. I can feel the moisture in the air evaporate as the sun gains strength.
I can feel the vibrations.
beep ding boop
I can hear the sounds.
I know each’s meaning the way I know the difference between a nauseated gurgle and a ravenous growl.
I adjust my pocket to silence the sounds. I put on sunglasses to block the rising sun.
As I walk down the hill, a multigenerational family enters my field of vision. A 30-something and his wife are engaged in conversation with an older set of adults, who I surmise are his parents. Shortly behind them follow four pitter-pattering feet attached to four skinny legs belonging to two adolescents. Clearly annoyed, their eyes lift only enough to ensure physical equanimity: heads lost in a digital cloud.
“…why don’t you take out YOUR phone and tells us what direction IT says to go, because MINE says we should keep going straight….”, I catch the son saying to his mother, as he gesticulates up the hill, phone in hand. The mother looks annoyed, the way your mom does when you suggest she doesn’t know how to use something. You know that look. The dawdling adolescents exchange knowing giggles.
Until the smartphone arrived in the 2000s, this performance was the province of fantasy. Prior, humans had long envisioned the world of tomorrow and its technological delights: robots, personal assistants, and sensory integrated appliances (I’m not sure Smell-o-Vision will EVER be a good idea). Now, these interactions are normative representations of intergenerational reliance and community.
The Information Superhighway has revolutionized human life, has undeniably upended human existence, and radically accelerated human potential. Our Internet of Things puts us closer to the Jetsons than we might imagine.
But, this revolution has its costs.
Like any highway, the cars are not all the same. Some clunk along while others zip along, engines humming a soft purr. Some people are able to go out and purchase a more fitting vehicle; many a senior citizen adeptly navigates cyberspace. But most people are living on a fixed income; many seniors rely on the generosity of younger family and friends, a fact constantly portrayed in the media. I mean, you KNOW that look.
We are all connected, but we are not on the same page. This revolution has its bloody and dark underbelly: billions of people have cars that cannot get on the highway. These old cars were designed for byways and throughways, but not super highways. These old cars are made for local routes, hidden trails, and off-road beauty; they lack the sophisticated sensors and mechanisms to make sense of the revolution’s new language. For some, what was up is now down. What was right is now wrong. That the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s occurrence coincides with a potentially fatal contraction for Globalization is telling. That we are more connected than ever while facing the rise of nationalistic government is foreboding.
I wonder what other unintended consequences lurk around the bend.