Did you ever hear the philosophical question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?“ It poses many questions about observation and perception, about what is real and what is artificial.
The other day I picked up the newspaper after months of abstinence. Andrea and I were away for a couple of days giving ourselves and our daughters some needed alone time after our long trip. The sun was shining down on me and I was pleasantly sipping an oatmilk cappuccino. An article that began on the front page of the paper caught my eye… The caption read: Il Regista di Westworld: Noi e i robot, fermiamoci o sarà tardi (Westworld Director: Us and the robots, we better stop or it is going to be too late). The article was about our future with Artificial Intelligence. As I turned the page to read more, my eye fell on a second article. This one was about children and their abusive use of computers, tablets and smartphones.
Do you get the connection?
Many people may not, but for me the argument was identical and both were directly related to the philosopical question proposed above. As I read the first article and then the second, I felt a tidal wave of anxiety creep up on me. The pleasant feeling about the day began to quickly dissolve itself like the foam of my cappuccio.
Our future: Artifical Intelligence, smartphones, smart dust and microchips, vaccinations and antidepressants, videogames, social media… robots and cloning…. This is our present, this is our future: a future that promotes an intelligence that is separate from what is felt in our hearts and souls. This is what I was feeling.
The article about the future of AI didn’t teach me anything that I didn’t already know. My writer husband burns my brain off with this kind of stuff. But, as I read the article I felt as if my heart was on fire. The article was about the American science fiction western thriller Westworld. Since I don’t have a television, this to me was new. As reported in the article, the television series portrays a futuristic theme park where human visitors (hosts) entertain themselves by interacting with androids. Everything is licit here: homicide, rape, orgies, massacres, all types of violence and torture. The androids are not human… they don’t possess a heart or a soul. Every evening their memory is completely cancelled. They remember nothing and every morning they are able to start anew. Ok, but how about the suffering they experience during the day before they are returned to their virgin state? What about the effect this type of cruelty has on the person committing the ‘playful’ act? What impact does this type of violence have on our pysche once the game is over?
The pain is real and the elimination of this is not part of the game.
“It’s a dangerous moral ground we are walking into, making systems that are reminiscent of humanity and then treating them in a way that is inhumane,” (Illah Nourbakhsh, professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University)
I remember seeing the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when it came out in 2004. Fourteen years ago all of this still seemed like science fiction to me. It no longer does because it no longer is.
I went on to read the second article, the one about the ab(use) of technology amoung children. Nothing new to me here either. According to an important study by so and so, children who spend an exaggerated amount of time* on technological devices use their brains less, interact passively with the real world, have less developed social skills, and are much less physically and mentally active. The article correlated the use of such devices with poorer math and science grades in school. These children are incapable of fully developing all aspects of their intelligence which includes the mind, the heart and the soul.
After putting down the paper, I thought about something else that I had read earlier that day: a new release of a 14 year old youtuber that I saw on the top 10 list of a bookstore. The book expressed the hope, determination and enthusiasm of an average teen who became famous and was living the dream of the new generation. What I see is an average teenager who spends her days posing and posting… interacting with her monitors and her facade instead of partaking in real life.
Once again, I ask you do you see the connection?
I thought about Kenia and her enthusiasm for the app Musical.ly. I thought about the excitement in her eyes after having seen and taken a photo with one of its stars at a festival last week in Torino… an excitement that perhaps I am too reluctant to show?
Am I wrong to discourage her and Havana from filling their still innocent minds, hearts and souls with what I perceive as raw emptiness?
Am I wrong to discourage them from looking up to these teen stars as role models for their future?
Am I wrong to discourage them from being interested in all the things that already is their future?
There comes a time when the base is laid and it is time to set our children free to choose on their own.
But, at the same time, it seems crystal clear to me that this world is no longer able to provide them with a real choice… everything we interact with is so robotic and sterile – so lacking of anima – everything we consume, from the food we eat and the air we breathe to the things we watch on our screens, is so artificial and lacking of intelligence…. what choices do any of us have when little by little, all of this artificialness is becoming a natural part of our lives and our true identities, our humaneness… the use of our hearts and our souls (our own minds) is becoming less and less natural?
I used to adore Leo Buscaglia (aka Dr. Love), an American author and motivational speaker, and a professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Southern California (deceased June 12, 1998). He used to say, “Once you have done your job, all you can do is close your eyes and cross your fingers”.
Do we really have the luxury of closing our eyes in today’s world, or do we have the obligation to keep them wide open to protect our children’s innocence from the constant artificialness that is literally stripping all of us of our real existence?
I doubt. I loose sleep. My daughters don’t go to school. They don’t have personal FB pages or Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. They don’t have their own cell phones. Their computer, tablet and smartphone time is extremely limited (I agree with the technology executives on this). We live in a non traditional way. We travel. We have seen and lived both spectrums: real poverty and real superficiality. We make them read real books and we push them outdoors to explore and feel the sun, rain and freezing cold air. We feed them organic food. I make them green smoothies and freshly pressed juices, muffins without refined sugar. And, most of the time I am confident that we are doing the right thing.
But, as I read the articles about our artificial future, about popular television series like Westworld, and see books about overly glorified teens on the top of the bestseller lists, I can’t help from thinking about how things really are… what has become normal to us… young kids behind closed doors playing homicide with androids, 8 year olds on Prozac and other legalized drugs, young adults contemplating suicide while full grown adults watch so called science fiction – horrific acts of violence – on their tv screens for a daily dose of artificial intelligence... a young girl (only a year older than my daughter) filling her days posing and posting, counting her likes and signing her bestselling autobiography to 8,000 fans while searching for a real identity in an artificial world… people cloning their animals and someday in the not so futuristic future, being offered the possibility to clone their own children... a world that is already starting to obligate us to vaccinate our children, wear microchips, rely on androids… and coming soon to a clinic near you… the possibility of cancelling your memory and starting anew… your heart and soul wiped away right with it.
I doubt. I loose sleep. at times I am too anxious with my thoughts, and, when I loose my way and go too far into the not so futuristic future… I feel downright terrified!
What kind of world are we creating? What kind of world are we reinforcing? I say we, because even though I firmly believe that too many things are being decided for us, I also believe that we still have the freedom to choose what to watch, how to spend our time, what to teach our children.
My human eye can see the pain we are already immersed in, as my heart begs to feel and my soul longs to reach out to the flesh, blood and soul of an entire mankind. Allow me to feel grateful for the real blood, the real flesh and the real tears… for as long as they last. (ANGO (aka Danni))
So, I ask you this last question:
If the heart and anima of a child, (any human being) is longing for real attention, but nobody is there to notice his pain, does it still cause suffering?
Sending all of you a huge, real live hug (hope can you feel it!),
*according to the experts this technology should be limited to a couple of hours a month. The people who invent the technology – the technology executives- do not allow their children to use it at all until the age of 12. Most of our kids start when they are still hanging out in strollers.