My mirror on the world


Thursday, May 06, 2010

            A ripped my mirror off my car yesterday driving out of my driveway – one of those dastardly problems I’ve had with the car since I bought in nine years ago. Once, a car passed too close and broke the mirror, leading to a comedy of disasters – the lack of a driver’s side mirror forcing me to twist my head around too much and too often so that I pulled a muscle in my neck, and then because I could no longer look behind me, I misgauged the distance in the rearview mirror and hit a low wall backing up doing significant damage to the rear end. I got the mirror fixed with the rear end, and made certain that each time something happened to that mirror I got it fixed as soon as possible.

            Thus the trip south from Jersey City Heights to Bayonne was a bit chaotic, keeping me to the slow lane for most of the way because I simply couldn’t tell if there were cars in the fast lane when I turned into it. Once here, I went to the local hardware store for glue and clamps and put the thing back on.

            The loss of the mirror made me feel crippled, and reminded me of just how much we have come to depend upon technology as an extension of our senses. In this case, I became partially blind. But I remember when I worked as a baker and depended upon a walkman for company, stimulating my mind while undergoing the drudgery of hard labor. When the batteries died, or the head phones broke, I felt lost, unconnected.

            We are going through a similar revolution now as people get hooked to even more advanced technology, the tentacles of the Internet weaving their threads into us as we walk or drive, giving new meaning to the concept of a global society. We are becoming hardwired to this other entity, this massive brain from which we gather information and sensation. And we seem desperate to keep connected.

            I remember one of the old science fiction stories I used to listen to frequently when I baked, about an alien invasion which slowly wired each of us in a similar way, converting us into a new global and eventually inter-space network that stopped us from being human.

            The internet and our connection to it has redefined what it means to be human, like the social networks in high school where if you were not in a particular group, gathering information from particular people, you were an outcast. In some ways, this new society is worse, because by plugging in, we are losing some valuable aspect of independent thought – we have access to more information, but it is a flow so overwhelming that we are forced to rely on technology to narrow it down or we might go crazy – technology such as twitter – where we can follow certain threads.

            One of the great philosophers – I don’t remember which one – talked about the concept of socialization and how we learn to reduce the flow of information to our brains, so that as children, we are faced with an unfiltered stream of data and that society allows us to determine which data is relevant. Lost in this, of course, is the ability to see patterns that are not socially mandated – the basis for art.

            One of the great hopes for humanity was LSD, because it broke down these social damns and let the full flow of sensations to flow into our brains, forcing our minds to make sense of the information. So instead of seeing things as society says we should, our minds find new groups, new patterns in the chaos, and we hallucinate.

            The new technology, filtered so as not to drive ourselves crazy, changes us much as the filtering we learn as infants, shaping who and what we are, and in the end, we will become so dependent on these devices and what they are connected to that when they break down or we can’t access them, we will become blind and deaf in a whole new way.

            So smugly this morning, I weaved happily through traffic, glimpsing into my repaired mirror as if a crystal ball, seeing what is coming and where I’ve been, and greatly relieved that my eyesight has been restored – that is until the next time someone slams into that mirror and I am blind again.


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