Imprisoned in reality or liberated in Virtuality?

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Photo: Nivesh

A few days back I had an interesting taxi ride after a long day in office. A smart looking Indonesian man charmingly greeted me as I entered the taxi. Welcome sir, where should I take you to? Serangoon Avenue 4 I replied and fell on the back seat of the taxi.

"Sir you look tired? Did you have a tiring day"? Taxi driver was trying to strike a conversation with me.

"Yes kind of Long day". I replied in a disinteresting tone

What do you do sir if I may ask you? He was in no mood to leave me alone

"Information Technology". I replied trying to keep my reply as simple as possible

"Do you work with computers?" He was in full mood to engage his late night traveler

"Yes I do" I leaned forward to reply.

"But then why do you work so late" he turned back to ask me that question.

“I had a lot of work, back logs, tight deadlines, pressure of meeting commitments so it happens sometimes “I told him in a stern tone expressing my displeasure of a taxi drivers intrusion to question my work timings

But sir, don’t you think computers should help you to work less? They are machines so they should do more work for you and you should relax. People worked for 8 hours a day before the computer era. So now with computers you should be working 6 hours or 4 hours a day. But instead you are working for 14 hours a day with computers. How do computers help us then? Is it really to make things easy or difficult? I am sorry sir if I sound stupid but I really want to know.

Ahmm…I paused for a while with no answer for him.

"I don’t have an answer to that honestly my friend. I really don’t". I laughed while answering but I was deeply moved by his provocation.

He dint speak for a while but again he started to ask questions

"You know what; I don’t know how the digital world helps us. My children don’t have time to spend with me. They are always busy with the computers. I really force them to spend time with me. Computers are making us in to something else". He went on as I was recovering from the shock which he gave me with his question.

"Are you happy with your job sir? I mean are you enjoying your long working hours". That was a tough one for an already speechless me.

"It helps me to feed my family and pay my bills so that way I am happy". I replied though my words had a pal of gloom in it

 

"So you work 14 hours a day with computers for food and bills?" He was laughing after launching that attack

“You have really interesting questions my friend but I honestly don’t have answers for it" I accepted defeat but I really was encountering my troubled conscience provoked by his questions

“You had been calling me 'my friend' sir, Thank you, but how old do you think I am?

"Around 38-40" I answered hesitantly.

"I am 63 years old" I found it hard to believe that I am looking at a man who looks so young at such an old age.

"How do you manage to look so young at this age sir" I asked in disbelief while I was paying him for his taxi fare.

“Simple Sir, I live in the real world and not in the virtual world. I spend time with real people and play with real friends and when I open my eyes I see the real world. Sorry if I made you feel bad in any way. Have a good night"

I sat down in the taxi for a few more seconds with my head down and I got out with a helpless smile and managed to Whisper a feeble thank you to him.

I found a happy man after all, firmly disregarding that his job does not have the glamour of mine.

While I was opening the door of my apartment a question bulged out from a farrago of distortions in my mind

Imprisoned in reality or liberated in Virtuality?

Are we really living in a free real world? This question raises unfathomable paradoxes on the contemporary life style. Influx of virtual realities in our lives blinds us from real realities of our beautiful world. Is an increasingly virtual world an emphasis to the social nature of mankind or is it a threat in its essence to the beginning of a dangerous behavioral evolution to deviate from social beings to billions of silos in the name of humans? Roberts overpowering humans are fantasies of the present world. But the question is, with a startling stare at the reality, are we the robots in the making?

Systems are indeed meant to help the human race for an elevated quality of life. But the billion dollar question is whether humans are considered at all while these systems are being developed. Most modernism of the present world order is boasting about technological advancement and artificial intelligence to make this world a better place. But the contrarian perspective of the taxi driver is something to be given a serious thought. Modern technological intelligence is making our lives empowered with numerous conveniences which our ancestors did not have. But isn’t that creating unprecedented and extreme dependencies on the systems in our daily lives? Metrics on human intelligence should be appreciated on the basis of criteria’s of liberations from unwanted dependencies. Human survival intelligence is not categorical; instead it is comprehensive independence from artificial systems. Stone Age man survived evidently longer than us. They had much bigger life threatening environment but they survived longer. If one of us is thrown back to the Stone Age, in all likelihood he is been thrown to death. Nothing much has changed from then and now; in fact we can claim more powerful intellect than them. May be we have acquired more knowledge than them but still our chances of survival in such environment is minimal. Lack of survival intelligence is no intelligence.

Scientific intelligence often locks horns with spiritual and theological intelligence to establish one's dominance over the other. Often materialistic arguments fail to give meaningful conclusions in explaining peace of mind and happiness. What makes us happy is unfortunately unknown to most of us. So we engage ourselves to interact with the virtual world. As far as we are engaged we don’t worry about happiness. Happiness is a quest only in the real world. Stone Age man fought back to survive while modern man surrender to suicides. Before it is too late and we are profoundly disconnected from the real world we should prioritize our human instincts first and accept ourselves as natives of the real world. May be the taxi driver is right, the chances of finding happiness in the real world is a one to one probability. But we wouldn’t know until we try.

Facebooking and Whatsapping and millions of like clones are indeed great ways to stay connected. Virtual connectivity is empowering our instinct to socialize more and more. Having said that, we need to pay close attention to the desired outcomes of these connectivity platforms. Is it helping us to collaborate effectively? Recent democratic uprisings across the world are examples of massive collaborative movements enabled and empowered by social media. While this news fill media columns we should be also mindful of the thousands of suicides, divorces and family disorientations which are caused by the same platform. Unfortunately the hard reality is that at an individual level our ability to collaborate with another individual is drastically deteriorating. The intention here is not to cite the argument that virtual connectivity is the cause for it but to provoke our thought processes to rethink if it is a reason. If we shrink ourselves to virtual connectivity champions and find it difficult to collaborate with a real person next to you then it is indeed an imprisonment in the numerous virtual compartments invisible but existent around us.

Systems are expected to reduce human fallibility to a great extent so that we have a foolproof everything around us. Precision technologies have taken over in many areas which reduce the risk of human fallibility. Transfer of human fallibility risks to precision systems is indeed essential especially in medicine and surgical areas. But the same precision technology in weapons and warfare is a worrying factor to the extent that a disturbed human mind can destroy the world through a few algorithms. These systems are not improving our ability to be more precise in our work instead, it is replacing humans. Therefore, human fallibility is not eliminated by systems but it is replaced. Here is the danger. A combination of deteriorating human fallibility and precision systems are deadly dangerous.

There is nothing wrong with the systems. What is wrong is the way we integrate ourselves with the systems. The modern scientific inventions are often focused on sell ability and market dynamics. Human instincts are often overlooked through mindless automations. We are the products of our instincts, values and qualities and not market driven needs, wants and greed. We need to preserve ourselves. Each and every one of us. It would be great if we could pause for a while and think about a world which we are creating and preserving for our children. The taxi drivers struggle to grab his children's attention is an alarming struggle between digital immigrants and digital natives.

These are questions and not solutions. Unfortunately there is no universal solution for this. But just a gentle reminder that we need to ask questions. Often to ourselves. Let the questions be hard and the answers be difficult but we need to find ourselves in the real world for a real and meaningful life.

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