by Ray Jason
It was a genuine “laugh until you cry” moment. Two of my absolute favorite people and their son were sitting across from me in a plush Palo Alto restaurant. Five minutes into our meal I looked across at them and was astounded. Spontaneously, but quietly, I leaned towards them and said, “Good god, you eat like refugees!” They laughed heartily and acknowledged that their lives are so dominated by the need to constantly hurry, that they barely notice how revved up they are.
This was my first contact with the phenomenon that I call “The Invisible Frenzy.” I was a few days into a month long visit to San Francisco to enjoy the company of my wonderful friends there. But I was already frazzled by the insane velocity with which they conduct their day to day activities. Was it so unsettling because I had been transformed by the slo-mo pace of my life in the Archipelago of Bliss, or had the speed of urban living accelerated that much in the seven years since my last visit? Probably, it was a combination of both factors.
For many years I have contended that two of the great curses of the modern world are humanity’s addictions to “Stuff and Speed.” I discuss the obscene seductions of consumerism quite thoroughly in my essay entitled “Enslaved by Our Stuff” which you can find HERE. The subject for today’s meditation will be the barely noticed tyrant that rules the lives of so many city-dwellers – SPEED.
To me, the highways and bridges that connect the San Francisco Bay Area seem like a vehicular combat zone. Drivers dart dangerously from lane to lane to save what can only be a few minutes in total driving time. They accelerate madly to gain a few seconds even though they can see the traffic halted 50 yards ahead of them. And they honk and snarl at each other in an aggressive manner which would be an excellent warm-up for a gladiatorial battle. Aside from not understanding “how” they can live this way, I also cannot comprehend “why” they live this way.
I feel confident that not a single one of the tens of thousands of cars that passed me on the highways, was speeding along because they were trying to get a pregnant wife to the hospital because she had gone into labor. Mostly, they were driving so rapidly and recklessly without even realizing that they were doing so. Their frenzy truly was invisible to them, just as water is invisible to a fish.
And Speed has a twin that is equally dangerous – Stimulation. However, it is not called by that name. Instead, it is referred to with a far more alluring description - Connectivity. At almost every stoplight every passenger in every car would be gazing blankly into their smart phones. Had Bigfoot been strolling down the sidewalk taking his unicorn for a walk, they would not have noticed. Hardly anyone is still in the world marveling at its magic and tragedy. They are in a massive machine staring at a small machine. No wonder their captivity is so invisible to them.
I got a jolting glimpse of the American obsession with ceaseless stimulation when I stopped for gasoline one afternoon. While filling up my tank I heard someone speaking to me. Looking around I could see nobody nearby. It took me a minute to realize that there was a TV screen embedded into the gas pump. As the customer was pumping gas into their car the TV was pumping gaseous celebrity gossip into the customer.
One might argue that this is all quite harmless, but I vehemently disagree. Why? - Because it is not accidental. It is deliberate. The Malignant Overlords - as I am fond of labeling them – want the peons distracted, so that they can both expand and consolidate their control over them. Flooding them with a steady stream of meaningless tripe - disguised as authentic living - keeps them from noticing that the river of their freedom is being methodically and irrevocably dammed.
Because I was in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was in the Belly of the Techno-Beast. In fact, I encountered two of Google’s driverless cars (although they currently have human co-pilots along for the ride, just in case Hal misbehaves.) Their appearance immediately conjured up a vision of a future when humans will be able to ride inside of their massive machines, but won’t have to trouble themselves with the rigors of texting on their small machines, since their personal robot valet can accompany them to do this. Therefore they will be able to dedicate their time to more important missions like playing “Call of Duty – Final Vaporization”… on their smart watch.
Something else that troubles me about this blind worship of Speed and Stimulation is the fact that it is so unnatural. Our Techno-Hubris has conned us into thinking that we have transcended our connection to the natural world. As we race around in human built realms of concrete, steel and narcissistic mirrored glass, we forget that we are still part of the animal kingdom.
We no longer remember that we are designed to walk and run. A bicycle depends on human propulsion. A sailing ship relies on the wind of Mother Nature. A horseback rider gallops on a creature from the natural world. But the contraptions that rule our lives are not natural – they are machines. The more we deny the constraints of our biological operating system, the more damaged we seem to become both as individuals and as societies. And by honoring the false idols of Speed and Stimulation, we turn our backs on more worthy aspirations such as health, serenity, community and happiness.
During this just concluded journey to El Norte (or El Frenzy might be more accurate), I was blessed to spend many fine hours with many fine friends. Sadly, the two factors that were most important in setting up these reunions were traffic and parking. It seems that the automobile has become the master rather than the servant.
But back down here in the Banana Latitudes, when amigos come to visit, those factors are never even considered. Instead, we plan our days around where the best sunset viewing is, or where the best wiggle-your-toes-in-the-sand- restaurant is, or where the baby dolphins were most recently seen. And my friends will spend very little time texting - and a whole lot of time savoring!