Modern man (by which I mean homo, both male and female) in the 21st century is a very different creature from man in times prior to the sixties, because modern man is always reachable, through a phone, probably a smart phone:
Everybody owns a smart phone nowadays or is (at least) aspiring to the status that a smart phone confers upon you (not to mention providing you with access to an enormous wealth of information).
What this means (essentially) is that even when people travel to what you’d call remote regions of the world, they could still be reached.
We have this very stark contrast between the age of (ocean) navigation before and after the development of the G(lobal) P(ositioning) S(ystem), before satellites enabled us to track what is happening and where we are.
This contrast is beautifully illustrated in a documentary about the non-stop, single-handed, round-the-world yacht race in the late 60s. These guys set off in small boats, determined never to rely on another person as they sailed around the world.
Sailing around the world can (I suppose) still be done today (depending on how good your yacht-handling skills are), but, in the present, the risks are not the same because you have at your disposal technologies which
- allow you to track yourself more easily (to reach others in case you run into trouble) &
- make it easier to be tracked (by others to reach you in case you run into trouble).
Nowadays it is even possible to track what else is going on around the world, in terms of weather-prediction and so on.
Technologies which were very primitive (from our point of view) in the sixties are now so everyday and so common-place that we don’t notice them anymore. Accordingly, modern humans are very different from humans who lived prior to the 1960s.
Humans, who walked the Earth for a period spanning not just centuries but whole millennia, were able to just go to some remote place, to cut themselves off completely from their fellow creatures, to move around in solitude of a kind that is almost unimaginable at the present time.
What did this do to our psyche? Well, first of all, you should notice that as long as we are reachable at any given point (in space and time) we experience guilt when we don’t feel willing to respond to someone reaching towards us.
Imagine the phone is ringing and you cannot pick up; the question arises immediately: Why?
- Is it because you’re taking a shower? You’re going to call them back in half-an-hour.
- Is it because you’re working? You’re going to call them back in the evening when you finish work.
- Is it because you’re on holiday and you don’t want to talk about work anymore?
- Is it because you’re in the mountains and the only reason you still have a phone on you is to be able to call for help in case you run into trouble?
This is where we are and it would (of course) be foolhardy to leave everything behind, although even in such a case people would probably still be able to find you if they were concerned about you.
It would take some really careful planning to actually get lost beyond reach. You’d probably have to travel up the Amazon to leave everything behind…
Now, if you do act on this impulse and run into trouble, people will think: What a fool…
How about before the age of satellites? Well, these fools were those who would chart new territories, the fools who were looking for something else beyond what they had (which may, actually, be the same for modern fools).
However, one inescapable part of their endeavours was that they always cut themselves off from (let’s say) their roots, for a fairly extended period of time, with the full awareness that it could result in their untimely (and unknown) deaths.
Another consequence of our using modern technologies is that they allow us to present only certain aspects, only certain features of who we are.
A technology like Skype (which includes video and sound) gives you the feeling that you’re getting a very complete image of the person you’re talking with, as you would in a face-to-face interaction. Nonetheless, even then, depending on the accuracy of the microphone (the noise-filtering capacity), you could not be getting/giving the complete picture.
Maybe you decide not to click on the video-streaming button and you only present yourself as a voice.
Maybe you’re presenting yourself through a blog and that makes you known only through your writings, which you can edit and you only publish when you feel fully comfortable.
Maybe you present yourself through voice recordings, which (again) you edit and publish only when you’re comfortable.
Maybe you present yourself in pictures (such as in Instagram), when you show yourself in certain postures, in certain contexts, in certain situations in which you want to be seen (and not in others), with certain people you’d like to be seen (and not with others).
With the current technologies people are becoming very confident in their ability to present an image of themselves which they can control and edit with relative ease (using electronic media).
On the other hand, in everyday (real-life) interactions, this is not so easy; when you meet somebody you cannot start hiding your face all of a sudden. That would be (at the very least) awkward. You cannot paste on your face a picture of yourself smiling and walk around wearing this mask.
This may help you understand the huge attraction, the enormous pull exercised by these Guy Fawkes masks which allow anonymity. Again.
Is the face that important? Sometimes it’s important to see the face, but sometimes it is not; sometimes, when we just want to present an idea, we think it’s irrelevant
- who I am,
- how I look like,
- what my voice sounds like.
This is when we want to present an idea free of contexts, free of a biography, which is not exactly possible in personal interactions between people located in the same physical space.
We’re definitely growing a different awareness of
- how we can control our self-image,
- how desirable it is to control the projected image of our selves, &
- how we would like ourselves to be versus how we actually are in the reality where we walk around, we drink and eat, we take showers, we move about with certain ease or lack thereof.
This may explain what transpires when we happen to meet in person somebody famous whom we’ve only known through electronic media. We are always surprised (or we pretend to be surprised): Oh my God, look at this chick, I saw her on TV and she had amazing skin or I-don’t-know-what, but I saw her in the supermarket and I-don’t-know-what.
That’s why these (famous) people have to wear sunglasses and hooded sweaters to cover themselves.
That’s why they need bodyguards to protect them, to screen their persons from all these eyes which insist on projecting the acquired image.
Is it the fault of the eyes which are watching? Or is it the fault of the person who is living off the projected image?
The aspiration shared by many people nowadays to become a famous person on TV stems (partially) from the mistaken assumption that the (edited-photoshopped-cropped-trimmed) images of famous people we get glimpses of are accurate, that these images are faithful reflections of what they would be like if they were our neighbours, if they were people standing next to us.
Therefore, the impact of technology on modern man does not stop at your (in)ability to be by yourself, to cut yourself off from society; (electronic media) technologies in the last 50-60 years have also altered how much control you can (or would like to) exercise over who you define yourself to be.
So, who are you?And who are we when we shed these (technology-induced) assumptions?
We’re people linking with each other in more numerous ways than ever before.
We want to be well-connected, right?
Why should you listen? Why should you talk to me? Why should I talk to you?
I talk to you because I feel we are together in this; I hope you realise that this is a dialogue which (at least unconsciously) you’ve had with your Self (=your modern self) when you contrasted it with your imagined Self 100, 200 or 300 years ago, or with your imagined Self as someone living in the Amazon forest and still hunting with a spear and a bow…
Bernard chose to remain unreachable for a bit longer
parce que je suis heureux en mer et peut-être pour sauver mon ame.
because I am happy at sea and perhaps to save my soul.
(Bernard Moitessier. 1971. La Longue route; seul entre mers et ciels. Translated as The Long Way by William Rodarmor,1973).