According to a campaign of “leaks” that the company has recently confirmed, Google wants to run interference for us while we engage the physical world. They are inventing stylish infogoggles with special GPS and Augmented Reality powers that will add layers of facts to everything you look at. You will no longer have to put up with unmediated reality; this is the new type of seeing.
What you’ll see through those Googleglasses is that restaurant across the street overlaid with everything people have said about it on Yelp for the past four years–possibly also today’s specials. Maybe in version 2 you’ll get little icons floating over people’s heads to show who they are and what their online status is right now. And on the buildings around you, you might see lists of everyone inside who remembered to put the address in their Google Calendar. You will know more than ever before, and always right now. The Googleglasses are the goggles of the future–but how are you supposed to get to any future by gazing more intently on the present and past?
I was talking with an artist friend recently about whether there’s anything happening. We got to a pet topic about the fantastic amounts of time everyone we know dumps in Facebook and Twitter, and the lack of time anyone seems to be investing in anything worth that time–art, literature, staring. She wondered whether this is the end: “Are people going to stop doing stuff?”
Of course, we already did stop quite some time ago, and we know that. TV is not new. It’s just that now we’re serious about it. The technologies of total connectivity are powerful tools to help us get nothing accomplished. Forwarding and re-forwarding links to miscellaneously captivating videos is the moral equivalent of chewing gum–a non-thing; nothing instead of something. And the Googleglasses will help you embrace that nothing more efficiently.
The popular idea is that wrapping social media and tech all around our lives is about “communication” and “information”–but when you see the way people drive while they’re phoning, or if you’ve ever lost a morning to a wikirut, it’s clear that these aren’t inherently productive endeavors. Communication and information only do something when they are the specific means to specific ends. When indulged in for their own sake, they just waste time.
The New York Times recently ran a story about a procrastination epidemic sweeping the country’s workplaces.
The story claimed our work isn’t getting done–not just because we’re secretly uploading baby pictures, but also because our jobs are more stressful in tough times. Fortunately, most jobs in which this kind of time-wasting is possible are devoted to inventing and maintaining the enormous infrastructure required for all the nothing-doing. So if we’re failing to get around to these jobs, that’s actually a synergy: the less we get done the more jobs we can create for making sure that the nothing remains possible. The problem with that is that having a job about nothing can make you feel bad, encouraging you to avoid it with these procrastination ploys–but then you’re likely to feel bad about not doing your nothing, which in turn can come back around and make it even harder to get around to doing it. Bullish times, indeed, for the ennui-industrial complex.
For the Times to be breaking that news about wasted time is clearly a waste of time itself. The story contained no news and barely even any news-you-can-use; it existed purely as a description of what its readers already know, supported by statements from experts who agree that it’s true–the journalism of affirmation. The main reason to publish the story was as material for the “Most Emailed Stories” list. Breaking news, indeed: Procrastinating workers email New York Times story to each other about the procrastination epidemic sweeping the nation.
The true meaning of procrastination–as of the Times story–is avoidance: you never do nothing without having something you’re trying not to face.
That recipe for paralysis is not the sort of problem you find among people who have an idea. Having an idea requires deciding what “good” is and why it would be better to have it; acting to realize an idea requires deciding what to do and then deciding to do it. Making decisions is what we are training ourselves to stop doing with all these new technologies. Television is able to suck up our time because it just keeps coming, continuously feeding our attention without ever making us decide what to be engaged with.
The total-connectivity world, of which social media frittering is only the most foolish part, offers an endless succession of things to react to right now–an IV drip of do-force; a treadmill for human functioning. It takes an effort to decide what to do. It’s always easier to let things to happen to you, to find a boss or a programmer who will make the decisions about what you should do and when you have to start doing it.
Total connectivity is the anti-idea, the undecision. The Facebooking, the Twittering, the relentless stroking of the smartphones is all for the sake of stopping time–to do less and happen more. Your connection to the network has only one thing to represent–the present–and overfolds its origami, making you more and more intensely now and not anything else.
We have embraced technological intensification at the expense of progress. The Myth of Progress caused problems because it encouraged a sense that it was good, even imperative, to do anything possible to “advance” ourselves technologically and economically–so we tried that, with consequent environment-wrecking. We are having a similar problem now with a Myth of Communication and Information: we’re indulging the delusion that it’s necessary to distribute all data everywhere–distribution for distribution’s sake. The Myth of Progress led us to give up caution and conservation in favor of frenetic movement; the Myth of Communication and Information leads us to give up reflection in favor of gibbering.
The Googleglasses haven’t arrived yet, but we crave them as avidly as we did the equally useless iPads before them, because we can tell that they’re for immersing ourselves in the Great Accumulation of things already said and finished. We’d rather see all that everyone once said about the restaurant than go to it and risk a non-peak experience. With our backs to the future we’re prisoners of the present–stuck in a moment 30-40 years behind ourselves in clothing, music, and median income, and never getting around to having ideas about making that different. We long backward for old-timey methods of agriculture too inefficient to feed us all; we’ve been wearing our pants belted below the butt for 20 years already. The culture has stagnated–it’s all about anything it used to be all about. Our favorite movie this year was a copy of an old movie about old movies.
Outside of human minds there is no such thing as “future.” The meaning of our idea of “future” doesn’t really have anything to do with time–it’s that we have the power to make our world become different as we see fit. The more we let our consciousness stream, multiplying our awareness of all that Now, the less possible it will be to decide anything contrary to the present. Whatever is will be whatever is right, and the glasses of the future are here and now so you can see more clearly why everything must be as it already is.
Clarke Cooper is a writer living in Brooklyn and working on a book about this.
*Photo courtesy of Pargon.