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Ripped from the Electronic Teat

I'm not the Doomer I once was. I don't know what the future holds, but I still take the possibility of the irrevocable collapse of techno-industrial civilization seriously. In fact, I've been thinking about it a lot while reading Dmitry Orlov's new book, Shrinking the Technosphere: Getting a Grip on Technologies that Limit our Autonomy, Self-sufficiency and Freedom.

In the book, Dmitry builds upon the thought and writing of Theodore Kaczynski. Kaczynski described the process whereby new technology becomes indispensable until such time as it is replaced by something even more advanced. Not only do individuals become dependent on new technology, but the entire technological system itself, what Dmitry calls "the Technosphere," becomes dependent on new forms of technology.

If the World Wide Web had crashed and burned in 1994, very few people not on college campuses would have noticed. If it crashed today it would cause enormous financial losses and would throw global civilization into chaos.
I remember a time without cell phones, cable TV, personal computers, GPS navigation, and Facebook. Speaking of all this glorious technology, people my age and older wonder aloud, "How did we ever get along without it?"

But we did get along without it.

My mother and I used to drive from California to Florida and back in the summertime without a mobile phone or GPS device. I maintained networks of friends without Facebook. I kept a journal without a computer to type on. I have beautiful memories of written correspondence with friends in other states and on other continents.
My children have no such memories. Collapse, should it happen, will take more from them than it will from me.
If it doesn't happen, it's possible that they will get more out of life in the technosphere than I will, but I doubt it. They've spent their childhoods staring a screens. I experienced a degree of freedom and autonomy when I was a child that they have never known. I explored the physical world on foot and on my bike, and I survived some pretty righteous wipeouts. Every time they leave home, they are in a car driven by an adult.

I remember reading and enjoying books while living in Japan that I would never have read at home, but English language books were in short supply, and so I read what chance brought my way. Does that happen in the age of ubiquitous wifi?

I learned to draw by copying the art in comic books. My kids don't draw, and they are not interested in comic books.

I spent a lot of time in the emergency room as a kid. I broke bones, sprained ankles, and dislocated joints. My oldest son fell off a chair and cut his chin when he was 5. That required a trip to the emergency room and two stitches, but he's never gotten hurt attempting an unwise stunt on a bicycle. He's never been thrown from a horse. He's never gotten clobbered in a neighborhood football game in a vacant lot. He's never gotten in a fist fight.

For the last few years, I've played Plants Vs. Zombies 2 most every morning. It's designed to be addictive with a daily unique level and a special bonus when you beat the daily level five days in a row. Miss a day and you start back at zero. You could say I was addicted to the game (though I don't like to over-generalize the concept of addiction).

On the first day of the year, I buried my aging Android tablet at the bottom of my closet and haven't touched it since. I don't miss playing PvZ2 in the least. I'm relieved that it's gone.

I check Facebook every day, but I know I could easily live without it. If all the techno gadgets stopped working tomorrow, I'd complain, and I'd miss being able to use them as I do. My world would get smaller, but it would also grow richer and more vibrant.

I suspect that such a loss would affect my children much differently. They would adapt if it happened tomorrow. It wouldn't be an easy transition, but they would adapt. I don't think they would adapt as easily or as well if the collapse hit them in their forties.

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February 2019


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