Wednesday, February 26, 2020

We Have to Go Back.

The world isn’t so big anymore.

It seems like the older I get, the more our world keeps growing smaller and smaller. Everybody is connected instantaneously. We can transmit messages and data with a single flick of the finger. New news becomes old news before you even have the chance to read it. We can shop online and receive packages within a day. We can spread memes and pick arguments and incite violence with just a few keystrokes. Careers can be made, and careers can be ended, all with the click of a mouse. Privacy is antiquated. Everything is fair game in this brave new world. Survival is as easy as resting in bed all day and not doing anything. Nothing is sacred.

And yet, I don’t feel any bigger than I did before. If anything, I feel smaller too.

I couldn’t begin to tell you just how often I repeat this phrase in my head:

“We have to go back.”

Keen television viewers might remember from which program that line originates – Lost.

(If you’re planning on watching Lost, stop reading now. I’m about to discuss a major plot point of the program. Come back when you’ve watched it.)

The classic third season finale of the show (Through the Looking Glass, 2007) gave viewers a startling twist-ending; Jack, Kate, and a few other castaways astonishingly escaped the island. And yet, reintegrating into society has ruined Jack. He can’t function without alcohol and oxycodone. His mental state is rapidly deteriorating. Jack has grown suicidal; he rides airplanes hoping they’ll crash and even tries to jump off a bridge. He finally manages to meet with Kate again, and expresses what he finally accepts as the only solution.

“We have to go back.”

Truth be told, this article isn’t really about Lost. And yet, my assessment of Lost has grown in favor over time. I now see the show as an allegory for what ails us as human beings. Collectively, we’re awfully sick. Life has become far too easy. We don’t face any challenges in our daily lives. Food is plentiful and there’s always a place for us to rest our head. Our meals come prepackaged in nice, neat boxes. There are no tigers for us to outrun, nor stampeding buffalo to dodge. We can float through life carelessly and still manage to cross the finish line. Work is defined by how many words we can type, or how many video games we can stream, or how we can best monetize our online videos. There are no crops to plant, nor trees to chop. Our cars are even starting to drive themselves. Objectivity has been rendered moot. The concepts of family and gender and even individuality are starting to weaken. The walls of independence are crumbling all around us. We can completely and totally disconnect from the world, and everything will be alright.

My friends, this isn’t healthy for us. We’re dying.

The enigmatic island in Lost is a symbol of where we came from as a species. We were once helpless beings trapped in a vast wilderness, with mysteries and dangers lurking around every corner. If you wanted to feed yourself and your family, you had to plant a field or hunt game. There were other factions of human beings, just like yourself, that also had to claw their way through life. You might even have to go to war with them for limited resources from time to time! Only the wisest and most self-sufficient survivors would rise to the top of the food chain. Your level of effort directly correlated to your level of accomplishment. Existence was ripe with adventure and excitement because every day was a gamble.

Our world was once oh so very big… and we were very, very small.

When Jack says, “We have to go back,” what he’s implying is that the modern world holds nothing for him anymore. The life he lived on the island was a sincere and authentic life; he felt like he had purpose once again. The island was a microcosm where a person could achieve great triumph, but only if they worked hard enough for it. It was undoubtedly a tough life, but also as real as it could possibly get. The contemporary world was driving Jack insane because it was too easy. He’d had a taste of what honest living was like… and he would do anything to get it back.

When I consider the weight of what “We have to go back" means, I look at it as a metaphor. I’m not saying we must return to a rudimentary society that lives in the forest and scavenges for rats and berries. What I am saying is that we need to make the world feel ‘big’ again. There should be routine challenges that we face on the regular. Adversity is good for the soul; it makes us stronger. It shouldn’t be so easy to share knowledge or spread news. We should have to invest some degree of effort to survive. At least some of our food ought to come from the garden, from fishing, or from hunting game. Ultimately, curing what ails us doesn’t come from a multi-national pharmaceutical conglomerate in the shape of a tiny little pill; it comes from within.

We have to go back… but we won’t.

In terms of societal grandeur, I can safely say that we’ve peaked. I view an extremely specific moment in time as the clarion call for our civilization’s downturn – the introduction of the first widely celebrated smart phone device. Apple unveiled the iPhone on June 29, 2007 to much cultural acclaim and anticipation. It’s an odd coincidence that the iPhone’s unveiling happened just thirty-six days after Through the Looking Glass first aired. The iPhone epitomizes all that we’ve lost in the progression towards a ‘connected’ society. This moment is the tip-top of the proverbial mountain, and we’ve been falling downhill ever since.

More than likely, you’re reading this article on a smart phone. Most internet usage now flows through our little black screens that fit tidily in our pockets. Traditional desktop computers are declining in popularity. Using the internet or employing a computer to complete a task is no longer a purposeful decision that requires focus. The smart phone simply ‘solves’ all our problems; it’s our companion and cohort. We’ve aggregated the entire breadth of human existence into a little metal box that weighs less than a pound. This perpetual cascading downhill isn’t something that’s going to stop. I don’t have enough faith in humanity to believe that we can come back from this plunge. Most people are weak and timid. At this point, It’s only a matter of time.

I can only question as to when we’ll hit bottom and who’ll be left to witness the end.

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