Thursday, April 6, 2017

AGE OF MASS UNCONSCIOUSNESS


Yes, I am a product of my time. The natural way of things is to age into obsolescence, whether trying to or not. As upbeat and with-it as we may try to be, old people cannot fully experience the world which the young populate. The reverse is also true.

If you swim in a New England pond today, you do not know what water uncontaminated by acid rain feels like on the skin. You do not have the experience of minnows and tadpoles so numerous that they are tickling your legs when you stand near the shore. When you walk along a beach on Cape Cod, you no longer see scores of skittering sand crabs at the surf line. These experiences are etched on my brain, but are completely absent from the brains of 20-somethings. That imprinting of the brain effects the way we experience the world.

If never being able to sit down in a subway car at rush hour is all you know, you most likely cannot easily relate to outrage about overpopulation or exploitation by property developers. Most young city dwellers would readily shrug when attention is brought to the forest of cranes erecting tower after tower in their cities without any commensurate improvements being made to public infrastructure. This malaise is enhanced by the lack of a skeptical media, print or visual. McLuhan's prophetic The Medium is the Massage is here in full force.

I am not prone to nostalgia, but I have a sharp sensual memory, photographic actually. Perhaps my memory is why I am not as nostalgic as some of my peers who remember their old world through an enhanced haze. For example, when I think of trolley rides here in Boston where we once had 140 street trolley routes, I remember them being cold in winter and hot in summer. I also remember sliding side-to-side on the leather bench seats as the trolley careened around a corner. So, when I ride a rare trolley car today, I relish the climate control and bucket seats, but I regret not being able to sit down much of the time. My attempts to exit a packed trolley car with polite expressions of "Excuse me." are thwarted by headphones on the ears of passengers staring at screens with mouths open. 

I have a similar experience of being in an urban neighborhood today. I grew up in the most densely populous American city of the mid 1950's. 48,000 of us lived in less than one square mile. That city was relatively quiet by today's standards. There were no blasting woofers in cars. There were fewer cars altogether. One of the loudest sounds was the occasional human voice of a tradesman hocking his wares from a small van or even from the handles of his pull cart. Knife sharpeners, rag collectors, metal collectors. Now I am bombarded through closed double-glazed windows by a constant flow of city rumble. Trucks, sound systems, helicopters, a parade of pedestrians sharing their phone conversation as they walk by my house. This noise goes unnoticed by my young neighbors who seem to think this is a quiet neighborhood.

If we were all conscious of how polluted our air is, perhaps action would be taken aggressively to fix it. If we were all prone to walk through our neighborhoods, rather than ride, perhaps we would all be aware of the unnecessary noise and litter we encounter. If we were all conscious of the high water marks at our nearest beaches, we would be outraged, not disappointed, at anyone who denies environmental crisis. If we were all conscious of the ravaging of our planet by the petrochemical industry, perhaps none of us would even consider buying a large gas-powered vehicle. 

But this is the age of mass unconsciousness. Too many human beings have turned to electronic technology to block consciousness of their surroundings. In poor, overpopulated countries, this is a natural fit, exploited by vendors of phones and headsets. In urban America, even Liberals will turn to watching video reports of war and global poverty rather than actually doing anything about either. How can any individual have an impact on the quality of life on the planet when that individual cannot even acknowledge the humanity of the stranger next to him/her on a subway car? If the young are inured to deteriorating human ecology, what is the hope for our human ecology in the future? 


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