We've Become a Society of Self-Deluded Children
The most obvious example is what happened to the telephone over the past thirty years. We computerized every phone system in America to “improve communications.” The net effect is that after all that time and expense (billions of capital investment), it is now nearly impossible to get a live human being on the phone, whether you are calling a Fortune 500 corporation, a non-profit charity, or your best friend. Has that improved communication? What you get instead are robots that waste big chunks of your time forcing you to listen to complex call-routing menus – often ending in futility.
Companies and institutions assume that they benefit from the “efficiency” of not having to pay gangs of human receptionists. But they only succeed in annoying their customers and clients, who are treated as pests to be avoided. In effect, phone systems became firewalls, not communication enhancers.
Add to that the more recent phenomenon of cell phones and smart phones, which, for all their charms, 1) don’t work in all locations, 2) drop calls frequently, 3) have lousy sound quality, 4) feature time delays that make people talk over each other constantly, 5) erode real-time social relations with distracting apps and web features, and 6) possibly harm people’s brains by constantly rinsing them in microwaves.
A larger issue of technology’s effect on culture is the erosion of a shared sense of what is going on in the world based on reality. Increasingly and insidiously, the consensus about how the world operates is based on things that constitute unreal cultural constructions, especially TV shows, the daily Web-flow, computer games, and pseudo-informational memes based on gossip, make-believe, and wishes. The self-referential nature of this process, by the way, is what generates the cultural mood of irony, especially among young people, who are the most thoroughly and immersively hostage to a cognitive field of rapidly degenerating show-biz artifacts that become more ridiculous with each iteration, self-reference, or mutation – until daily life seems like little more than a continuous Gong Show of implausible made-up spectacle. You might end up thinking that Federal Reserve Chair Khloe Kardashian is releasing a new cologne which can be used as an alternative fuel one hundred times more powerful than gasoline and exported worldwide to reduce the trade deficit, save Social Security, and make America energy-independent.
This is a time in history when it’s hard to take anything seriously, including our fate.
There remains, however, an age-old relationship between reality and truth, and societies that allow them to become divorced run the risk of collapse. That happens to be exactly the predicament of the USA these days, and hence it is not such a marginal view to anticipate a bug-on-the-windshield moment for a society that has made self-delusion its baseline normal zeitgeist.
It’s especially remarkable that a nation with fairly deep traditions of free thought and speech, with durable institutions for purveying them (a free press), should sleepwalk into a captivity of pervasive, systematic, institutionalized lying and fraud. The people of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia suffered under such regimes at gunpoint, with boots on their necks, but in the USA of Bush and now Obama, we have conveyed ourselves to very similar circumstances willingly, like little children skipping through the gates of Disney World, with gleeful disregard for the consequences.