we are not homo erectus


‘If tinder was nearby, the toolmaker became a fire maker.  Homo erectus would maintain fire but probably not until Homo sapiens could humanity make it.’*

“If you want your dream to be, take your time, go slowly.'”**

Ever since we were able to make fire, our species has been on an ever faster journey of invention, integrating technology into our lives.  Sherry Turkle shares some of the remarks made to her by those struggling with the connected life their mobile phones make possible: “I don’t have enough time alone with my mind,” “I have to struggle to make time to think.”

We are more Borg than we know, unable to separate ourselves from the technology we are dependent upon:

‘These formulations all depend on an “I” imagined as separate from the technology, a self that is able to put the technology aside so that it can function independently of its demands.’^

“Time to think” is all around us – the journey to work or to shop, the space between tasks, our evenings at home – yet this time is increasingly filled with technology.  Two guys were walking in front of me a couple of days ago, each wearing bluetooth headphones, both sets were white and silver and big, but one set was bigger than the other.

As I slowly read Turkle’s reflections on her research, she’s been observing our interaction with robots and with the internet:

‘With sociable robots, we imagine objects as people.  Online, we invent ways of being with people that turn them into something close to objects.’^

The trouble is, when we begin to treat people as things – perhaps because of a large number of messages we receive being perceived as a nuisance or interference – it’s not too much farther to messages becoming harsh and more critical, then cruel and bullying.  We hear more and more stories of online/offline anxiety, embarrassment, guilt, and even shame.  Technology is increasingly unforgiving, though.  Whatever we put online stays online, always remembering our indiscretions.  Offline, though, new beginnings are more available – human memories fade, closeness overcomes.

‘Indeed, when a colleague turns to answer a text when talking to us, it is difficult to feel that we matter.’^^

Turkle closes her chapter about constantly being online with the short story of her meeting with a sixteen year old student.  He’d turned his mobile phone off at the beginning of the hour they talked together, but when he turned it back on he found more than a hundred messages demanding his response.  He asked quietly, “How long do I have to continue doing this?”

It’s a frightening question.  Every indication is that it is going to get worse.

‘Deep down you desire the freedom to live the life you would love.’*^

I am no luddite, nor do I want to be.  I enjoy technology.  But we must develop other human capacities so that our interaction with technology leads us to a better, more deeply-connected world.  This world will find us taking slower journeys.

Be slow to see more, be slow to feel more, be slow to act more.

(*From Stephen Pyne’s Fire.) 
(**Donovan Leitch, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(^From Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.)
(^^From Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber’s The Slow Professor.)
(*^From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)


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