Googling Ourselves in Cages

Anit Singh
Many amongst the Nazis were good human beings. When they were asked later, after the horror was over, that why did they act so cruelly, most of them replied that they just did what they were ordered to do. The Jews, who were treated like animals, began seeming like animals with no emotions, hopes, personalities, just a stream of bodies to be sent to a gas chamber.
One must ponder, even now that several years have passed, that how could individuals who were not demoniacal in their private affairs turned so when ordered. Then we must ponder that what happens to an individual functioning in an environment of power. What happens to the essential individuality against the combined might of an office, so that where the man himself wouldn’t kill women and children, but would have no hesitation doing so indirectly.
The implication of this extends to our daily lives as well. I have seen people asking specifically for the succulent pieces of a goat kid and I have wondered whether the man would have the heart to slay a creature as beautiful as that himself? But he had no problems in having the slaughter indirectly done for himself, as if by having it cut by someone else, he could expunge all the guilt that would have involved in the process.
Caging Humans
Studies of dictators, Nazi criminals revealed that they suffered from an acute disconnect from their victims. Since their lives didn’t overlap, there was no compassion between them. Can we say that the lack of this interaction makes us rude, intolerant and fundamentally less of a human?
The questions are important, for we are now entering a new world. In this world, our lives would be dominated more by automation and the long chains of commands that some humans sitting in the other part of the world would give to a machinery, that would then be empowered to take critical decisions, or work that no human would do.
Little by little as we immerse ourselves into the world of phones, tabs, computers, interconnected devices, we our control on the things has loosened, that we have given up power in certain spheres, because the saving of effort that we would have to expend to exercise the power. For example, if the google map tells you the location of the best restaurant around your place, or better still allows you to seamlessly order from there, you would not take out your car and circle around, testing for your own self for the best place to eat, especially if your are reading a book that ‘goodreads’ app recommended for you and sitting on a comfortable chair that ‘flipkart’ gave you at an amazing discount.
Isn’t it the good thing though? To be free of the little distractions of the daily life and focus on the things that are really important? But, what is really important? Wasn’t the purpose of life to continually find these important things? What the technology is doing now is to ossify our personality into a mode that best serves the makers of these technologies and then to ‘subtly’ exploit the data that has been stored. It is like feeding the chicken their feed, to keep them in their cages and then to take their eggs, when they drop it regularly, day after day. The funny part is that the chicken doesn’t know it is caged, for that is the only life it has ever seen. Do we?
Irreverently Important Things
Little things matter. Conversing with a middle aged farmer riding with you on a bus to work would not yield a goldmine of information. Probably something on the lines of patterns of rainfall, on the health of his kids. But in a world where we have been squeezed to fit into only two dimensions, ie. very near and very far; the middle path is required. The very near is our personal group, of friends and family that constantly are in our reach now via the social apps.
The very far is the world of the internet, neatly categorised according to our interests that allows us to explore our interests with strangers.
The critical component lacking in the mix is the middle ground of the people around us, who may not be related to us or hold similar views to us and yet are physically near to us, who show us the reality outsides of our bubble. They may be co-passengers, neighbours, walkers you meet in a park; in effect everyone that we ignore.
Cities have turned us into brusque beings.We demand efficiency at coffee shops, bill paying desks, banks, servicing centres. If someone was to ask what that efficiency was, then we’d say that efficiency is to use the time we would have used for cordiality and little chit chat for doing ‘real’ things, like doing work on internet, or maybe talking to some important friend. This efficiency also makes us do the same thing while we work, while we are at home, while we play, which is to transport us to some other place so that we are always between half finished jobs and never in the moment. When the song from the movie Metro says that we are surrounded by the world and yet alone, it is because we have cut ourselves from every one around us.
The point is that while the technological growth has allowed us a plethora of choices and has even allowed us to communicate with our friends and relatives at all times, it has also cocooned us into the self sustaining islands who depend only on the interconnected services of the networked world disconnecting us from the immediate one. We do not interact with people who have a different attitude in life than us, different religious belief for our ‘whatsapp’ and ‘facebook’ communities are essentially coops trapping our thoughts like the chicken’s.
In this milieu, the suggestive power of the technology is overpowering. We are led to the slaughterhouse of consumption even without our realising, for our mind is not used to non confirmatory information. That is why people are so outraged when they encounter each other out of their silos. Fundamentalism, extremism, intolerance grows out of this in-groupism and group think. At the most basic level, one can see the reactionary tendency of people on internet. Even the liberals are stark defenders of the values which are ‘good’ according to them and immediately descend upon everyone who disagrees, even un-intentionally.
Remember Raghuram Rajan’s apology because his metaphor, ‘one eyed amongst the blind’ had outraged sensitivities of the blind? In reality, we are all becoming a little too sensitive and a little too blind.