We Have Reached Overload

'Future shock could be the most important disease of tomorrow', wrote Alvin Toffler more than thirty years ago. I get future shock in my home town, in the cement garden of England...

By Ed Twist

Kent has suffered some of the most devastating environmental annihilation thanks to Channel Tunnel rail links, Millennium Dome madness and the town-slaying, car-worshipping cathedrals of consumption like Bluewater Park – the biggest shopping centre in Europe. In the name of progress, technology has promised consumer heavens and spawned hell.

Future shock is the disease of change. It has profound psychological and sociological consequences. Toffler warned that unless people learn to control the rate of change in their personal lives, as well as those in society at large, they are doomed to suffer a disorientating adaptional breakdown: 'Millions of psychologically normal people will face an abrupt collision with the future. Citizens of the world's richest and most technologically advanced nations will find it increasingly painful to keep up with the incessant demand for change.' Has the future arrived too soon?

A technologically saturated society is corrupting our minds with data. We are addicted to the pulse of electronic communications. Technological-obsessive-compulsive behaviour causes people to confuse information with knowledge. There is only one cure: unplug from the machine'. Fifty percent of the UK now own mobile phones – but does it make life easier? They disrupt and distract, speeding up the pace of your daily life. Adopting new technologies was supposed to increase leisure time, but now you can take the office home with you. Workers are wiring themselves into the computer's 24/7 timezone, replacing the clear cut 9-5. No wonder managers are encouraging employees to use mobile laptops and mobile phones. Optimum efficiency drives the information age. The productivity gains of the technological revolution have undoubtedly created phenomenal prosperity, but our enjoyment of simple pleasures have been eroded by the invasion of new technologies that knock us off track and derail our brains. The irritating demands of the artificial matrix of mobile phones, pagers and computers allow us to multitask yet restrict movement. The accelerating speed of time means we end up running so fast that we cannot move. In the words of Erik Davis: 'We lose the capacity to speak and act from within, and communication is reduced to a reactive, almost technical operation. And so we drown, believing that to drown is to surf.'

More than 25 million homes in Western Europe now have Internet access, compared with half that number last year. This is predicted to rise to 60 million homes (45 % of Western Europe) within the next four years. We are on the verge of a golden age, but will the new economy bring about a new politics? Will widespread use of new technology create a better world? One thing is clear: Inequality is growing. The UK has never been so divided. The number living below the European Union poverty line has tripled since 1979 and the gap between the lowest and highest paid is wider than at any time since the late 19th century. The UK has enjoyed steady economic growth throughout the nineties, a trend that shows no signs of abating, yet there is a disturbingly large underclass untouched by this prosperity.

The internet is set to contribute to an increasingly divided society, severing society along the same old class, age, gender, and geographical based lines as any other new technology. The pro-libertarian, quasi-socialist impetus for the development of the internet as a tool for communication has, like every other altruistic idea in the history of human kind, led to hijacking by commercial forces. As consensus reality is propelled fast forward into a cyberspace future, those left inhabiting the stone cold reality of planet Earth will find themselves' increasingly information poor, as well as financially disadvantaged. Information exclusion is fast becoming a defining feature of the information age.

Technologically developed, economically advanced societies are bad for your health. They are the wealthiest ever and, in general terms their members have enough to eat and are able to exercise wide choices in how they live their lives. Yet increases in depression, anxiety neurosis, addiction, eating disorders, anti-social, criminal and violent behaviour have been steadily rising since 1950. Up to two thirds of the UK's population suffer from mental health problems at any one time. These numbers are increasing all the time. Modern life fucks you up. To feel fucked up is to feel normal. You are not alone. One could argue that this is an inevitable effect of being cooped up in the human zoo. In experiments where apes are kept in claustrophobic conditions for long periods, a high percentage suffer from the same psychological conditions as outlined above.

There is a direct relationship between increasing levels of disorientation, anxiety and stress and intense techno-media overload. Toffler argued that much of the bewilderment, frustration and disorientation that results from accelerated change is causing a breakdown in communications, misreadings of reality and an inability to cope. Hmmm. Reality? Run that by me one more time... How can we be expected to 'read' reality when, in the words of Philip K Dick, 'We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by media, governments, by big corporations, by religious groups and political groups. Unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo realities manufactured by sophisticated people using sophisticated electronic mechanisms'. Jean Baudrillard diagnoses the social condition as hyperreal. He defined this as social, political and perceptual organisation based on the dominance of technological simulacra. The hyperreal is like a virus that destroys older frameworks for understanding the real, replacing it with a new order of reality based on simulation. A programmed, simulated society is a paragon of social control.
Westy | P H O T O N O M Y posted 24 February 2009 (22:20:58)
This is a really interesting article and and helpfull as i am writing my dissertation on why people dont participate online and if they do it can just end up being pointless and just noise. i shall be referencing this article so thanks
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