Friday, May 19, 2006

What's real?

I was working on the critique of another writer's novel draft this evening when I was struck by the gulf between the real world and an artificial one. She had penned a fine put-down of one of those young computer nerds who regard all those who don't give a damn for the latest hi-tech gadget as being some kind of throwback. You know, throwbacks like you who think driving into the back country is fun, or like me who thinks a person's life should be more than a collection of gadgets.

In the 90s, I spent a lot of time and energy digging my way into GPS technology that I thought might put me ahead of all the competition in my remote-location survey field. (It did for a while, before those with ten times my resources out-teched me, but enough of that.) Eventually I realized that specialist knowledge of a purely artificial - human devised system – actually leads one away from what is important to us as human beings. It's one thing to absorb technical information to earn a living, but quite another to model one's humanity upon it. The excitement of producing a clever piece of code, or developing a ground-breaking gadget is not abnormal – it's squarely in there with what makes us human – but it just isn't what makes life go around. Life is a grubby, mundane thing of same-old same-old, that has to be lived one minute at a time, and has to resonate with one's inner being and one's fellows to be worthwhile. Somehow, our activities don't mean a thing unless they touch others on a purely human level.

If you're reading this blog, you are probably trying to relate this to planning your next 4x4 trip into some new area, and wondering where the hell it fits. You'd probably laugh if I accused you of being a tree hugging nature lover – but face it – you see more of the raw world than all those mall rats and video game fanatics ever will. Give the world a few more turns and you could be the only people who see the real world out there beyond the lights. City living is almost entirely artificial these days.

Maybe you'd better absorb some of the actuality out there and bring it back to the domain of the low riders and the little tin boom-box drivers. We need people with their feet on the real ground. Next time you're out in country that only people in competent 4x4s get to see you should look for experiences that can bring you closer to an awareness of the world that matters. Take your eyes off those ugly ruts you're following, park the damned thing and shut it off. Walk away – maybe a long way away – a mile, say. Sit down and become one, as the Buddhists have it, with the world out there. As far from the unreality of city living as you can get. This is what your ancestors experienced thousands of years ago. This is the world in which your humanity evolved.

Experience it. Remember it. Fix it into the way you live your life. You'll never become another one of ‘them', satisfied with nothing more than virtual reality on a glitzy toy. Be out front, as someone for others to follow.


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