Pixel Addicts

The Consumer Electronics Show invaded and besieged Las Vegas the first week of 2017. Over 175,000 industry people attended this Woodstock for geeks. An IT legionnaires’ event, anyone familiar with sunlight was denied entry.

CES always features next-gen products and devices intended to make pasty-complexioned, socially awkward tech lovers desire and drool. Of course what premiered that first week of January will be obsolete just in time for Christmas.

Such is the rapidity of technology.

Yet more than the speed of evolution is the manner by which the new and enslaving increasingly crowds out our humanity. Examples of this dehumanization, no, dependency, abound in our daily lives.

Who other than hermits haven’t seen the totally focused on the screens of their handheld devices? Not just engrossed but to the point of forsaking self-preservation. It’s become so common it’s ubiquitous.

Haven’t we all been astounded by the pedestrian so mesmerized he or she plods across intersections minus any glance in both directions beforehand? Jaywalking is one thing. To a certain degree even skylarking earns passes. Those people are at least cognizant of traffic. But the absurd level of distraction demanded – and given! – sleepwalkers who’ve erased all peripheral awareness at the utter peril of life and limb is crazy.

Besides, don’t such targets tempt malicious drivers?

Our restaurants are filled by legions of alleged diners who’ve forsaken the first courses and any cross-table banter that enlivens the experience for absorbing the latest mindlessness from sites with half-lives of fruit flies. It used to be galling while being escorted to a table seeing the faces of an already seated quartet not lively and bathed in the warmth of candlelight, but as spooky features illuminated by devices’ dull blue glows.

Not so much now because it’s become so ordinary.

In fact this acceptance of indifference violates what had been perhaps the best part of sharing a meal outside of the eating itself. The chatter. The good feelings enhanced by mouth-watering aromas and savories upon the palate further lighten moods which loosen tongues.

Since sensory pleasures are denied and conversation is stunted, why even visit a restaurant with real china and silverware? Why not just creep through a fast-food branch’s drive-thru lane then devour fare requiring the most meager involvement possible?

I broached this subject with a CES attendee. Surprised someone outside the field aware of our increasing disconnect among ourselves, he admitted segments of the industry were taking tentative steps towards addressing the problem I’d raised.

Apparently minds still sufficiently plugged into getting us outside our heads, people who leave the indoors frequently enough to realize that big yellow thing above in the daytime sky is the sun, work on theories they hope someday untether our brains-eyes-fingers-device links and restore our unique flesh and blood aspects. Or as I saw it, re-establish semblances of grace and civility.

Really, though, are there algorithms which can wean the devoted from the narcotizing effect of picayune pixels? Have we become so easy to program? To de-program? To, in effect, properly rewire? I had a quick vision of a roomful of earnest Poindexters whiteboarding our salvation through more than simply different arrays of ones and zeros.

Naturally human behavior can be modified. Edward Bernays, Joseph Goebbels, and any ad exec who’s padded his or her expense account have proven this time and again.

However, their appeals, those redirections caused, yanked the brain through the heart. While today’s hearts beat and brains function, the two organs are far less simpatico thanks to technological advances. In many cases they nearly verge on independence rather than interdependence.

Skeptical, I would’ve thought our re-immersion into humanity might require a cataclysmic event, say, a global blackout or a pulse burst that fried every circuit imaginable before heads craned up and sight resumed encompassing more than contents contained on palm-sized touchscreens. What my sounding board and his more mindful colleagues sought to engineer weren’t specific impulses (buy soap, subjugate Europe) but re-instill – or in some cases, finally instill – nebulous distinct traits that complete us as so-called humans.

Discount “nebulous”? Okay, swell.

Define “nice.” Does “nice” contain or expand into “genial”? “Amiable”? The last two are facades which grease perception and acceptance. But displaying either usually lowers a respondent’s natural initial resistance, easing hesitancy to engage thereby reducing distance between parties.

That’s nice.

My confidant and his associates grasped how our fascinations with gadgets blunt our contact with the world. The waking world. It’s no exaggeration stating that more and more of us are becoming willingly adhered to data. How soon, how many steps are we away from letting bytes decide for us? Deciding, not simply providing choices. How long until we completely accede our free will to such precursors of Skynet?

So, from a side room, okay, a suite, at CES the first glimmers of our collective salvation. Programs that wean us from the applications and shortcuts, and timesavers, conveniences rendering “practical shared knowledge” obsolete, begun as crutches and now have integrated themselves into our backbones.

In the future, our machines won’t usurp our intelligence unless we’ve consciously surrendered to them. If successful, we’ll need to reacquaint ourselves with serious thorough learning.

Maybe even teach cursive script in schools again, too.

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