I have been thinking a lot about the notion of change lately. How, as a result of the acceleration of the rate of technological change, the world is constantly transforming itself faster and faster. And the faster that it transforms itself, the more difficult it is for humans to effectively absorb the changes. Cumulatively, these changes are increasingly experienced as one enormous overstimulating tension-pocket. And yet, although the changes are increasingly difficult to absorb, their cumulative abrasive nature has the effect of shocking people to life, pulling them out of the numbness from the experiential vacuum created by modern technological society.
Although he has been discussed a lot as a source of anti-numbness in the articles in this column, it is not just Trump that people have been looking to in order to pull themselves out of their numbness. Nor is it just opioids and other recreational drugs, although they have definitely played a major role in this endeavor. Rather, it is all kinds of different abrupt defined discrete changes, including technological innovation. Change for change’s sake is increasingly something that people are using in order to stay alive. The newest video games and electronic gadgets of all kinds. The newest jobs. The newest residential communities. The newest friends and a constant turnover of romantic and sexual partners.
The problem is that all these changes are experienced as isolated defined discrete mini-events that are exhausting because there are not enough flowing blendable continual experiences in modern life narratives to connect these events, to help people flow from one event to the next so that each event is more easily absorbable, and, finally, to prevent these people from becoming hardened, jaded, and, in the long run, more lifeless. It is these flowing blendable continual experiences that, in more traditional natural life narratives, allow people to, as it were, evolve from one event to another, so that the whole flow of processes and interactions can be properly absorbed and integrated without shocking a person. This of course is only relevant in circumstances where people aren’t living in experiential vacuums and don’t feel a need to be shocked to life.
A cause for concern is that as people increasingly immerse themselves in more and more modern technology: screen reality, Internet of Things, 3-D printing, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, etc., they sink further and further into an experiential vacuum, into deeper and deeper numbness from so much mediated experience. Which means that people have to pull themselves out of the numbness with more frequent and more intense abrasive changes. Which can be highly disruptive to people’s lives, both as individuals and as a part of society in general. Disruptive and ultimately, because these abrasive mini-events are so overstimulating, they lead to a person becoming jaded and ultimately lifeless much as if the person was experiencing numbness from understimulation. Ultimately, understimulation and overstimulation meet on the other side.
And what is the opposite of change? Routine. Predictable patterns of behavior that in today’s world are increasingly modeled by predictable patterns of process in machines. So the routine today is not a flowing blendable continual thing that allows for much flexible deviation as was common in the more primary experience world of traditional natural society. Instead, because it entails using modern technology with its more constricted delimited infinity of possible actions, it creates a more rigid adherence to daily procedures. Which people experience as numbing. The temporal equivalent of an experiential vacuum.
So today, people live much of their lives in numbing understimulating routinized patterns and the rest of them in abrasive overstimulating disjointed isolated mini-events. Neither one of these is indicative of a comfortable meaningful life narrative. And returning to the idea of change, change today is a series of abrupt disruptive disconnected defined discrete events that are difficult for people to absorb and integrate. This is very different from change in more traditional natural societies where it usually acts as a series of flowing blendable continual evolving connected experiences that people can absorb and integrate more easily. These evolving external experiences allow people to make internal changes to correspond to the changes being made in the external world. But change today has become an adversary rather than a refreshing friend.