Children the world over have gone to sleep dreaming of the stars: wrapped in their rocket pyjamas, and covered in a blanket of night, they’d sleep and dream of adventure.
As we round the last week of 2011, amid the newsreels of earthquakes, disasters and war, the space shuttle program’s demise strikes the gong of doom as to where our planet is heading. For we will always fight, there will always be natural disasters: there is little we can consciously do to change these devastating realities. But it cannot be said we will always be able to travel to space. Skills will be lost, but more significantly, our world view will change irreversibly.
In July this year, NASA grounded its space shuttle program, and it barely registered as a blip on the world’s radar. The Kardashian wedding and its subsequent 72 day marriage however streamed 24/7 into our screens, homes and workplaces. The story was that this was a newsworthy story. Oh, the irony.
Future plans for shuttles are in limbo. There are many factors for this, but the upshot is that the US government does not see the value in running the program anymore. It is expensive and dangerous to human life. It would seem space is not the new frontier anymore. The new frontier is the Wild, Wild Web.
Whereas space encouraged the expansion of our world, through exploring our planet and universe for the benefit of all humankind, the internet and related technologies turns our attention inward, at warp speed.
We – the First World – have answered life’s eternal problems of staying fed, sheltered and warm, and now we’re turning to making our lives better. With the basic needs out of the way, now we are working our way through our list of ‘wants’. It’s all about ‘What’s in it for me’.
As we all move our lives onto the internet – setting up Facebook accounts, conducting our business and personal shopping online – the internet is becoming one massive mirror through which we see ourselves. Our lives are faster, shinier; we look good in digital form. We can airbrush our flaws away, edit away the boring bits on our Facebook profile, shop at 3am and talk to friends regardless of location or time. We take and put up pictures of ourselves, where 100 years ago people may have only had one photograph taken of them in a whole lifetime, and at great cost. In contrast, I have 574 instagram photos on my iPhone alone, and I’ve only had it for 3 months.
The technology removes us from the moment we are in, and transports us somewhere else. It is not within the world, or even outside the world. It’s an interior space within us. Our focus is narrowed down to the 15 inch laptop screen, and our mood and worldview depends entirely on whether or not the Wifi is working. Advances in technology mean devices become smaller, faster: which in turns makes our lives smaller and faster.
After a year of living on the web, I know I don’t want my life to be smaller or faster. I want it to be full of meaning, and to run at a pace where I can appreciate its fullness.
The internet enables us to talk to each other, but what are we saying? Are we getting the meaning of the messages we’re trying to send, or are they lost in the cacophony that is the world wide web?
At the moment we treat the internet as the planet we move to when the Earth is so damaged it becomes unlivable. It disconnects us from our bodies, from our real lives, and often doesn’t offer real life solutions to real life problems. We come here to swim in a digital pool, and we’re still fascinated that we come out of that pool bone dry.
We don’t fly to space anymore. We don’t notice the stars because we are dazzled by the glow of our screen. Our future, which we once imagined in space, is now in front of us and it’s not clear who’s driving the rocket.
Kids will soon go to bed, wrapped up in a Google pyjamas, where they shut down for the night. Who knows what their future will look like.