The Ghost in the Machine: Technology Begets Insanity - Part One

"Things are different today,"
I hear ev'ry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she's not really ill
There's a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of her mother's little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day

Despite Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War, life was simpler in many ways back in 1965 when the Rolling Stones recorded “Mother’s Little Helper.” Yet apparently plenty of people wanted to reduce the anxiety or numb the pain.

In that regard not much has changed in 47 years.

This is an interesting subject for me to approach, for it has to do with me personally as well as countless people I feel extremely close to. We are increasingly a society that reaches for pharmaceutical assistance in order to maintain “normality.”

About a decade ago, midway through my career, I reached a point where I thought something was wrong with me mentally. Years later I learned this was the result of long-term stress, anxiety and cumulative decision-making that is so prevalent within the world I call my career. 

To this day I'm on a daily regimen of anti-anxiety medication that allows me the freedom to not be a prisoner of stress. For the longest time, I believed those of us on these meds were a scattered outcropping of individuals who simply were not wired correctly. Nothing – NOTHING could be further from the truth.

The more I explored, communicated and allowed people into my inner circle, the more I understood this was becoming the norm. It fascinated me on so many levels. How could it be? How could some of the smartest people I know – educators, creatives, engineers, architects, CEOs and so on – be bound by their own mental leashes?

After a few years I came up with my own hypothesis. I am by no means medically trained, nor have I done any additional research to prove this point scientifically correct. So before you start commenting about how wrong I am, just chill the hell out. It's only the theory of one longtime marketing guy.

That little chunk of legalese being said, I will begin at Darwinism and Social Darwinism. The evolution of a species is something that is progressive. It takes a great deal of time, changes within the context of its surroundings, and thereby extends its evolution. For instance a reptile may grow longer legs in order to accomplish a different task over the period of X number of years. I think we all get this in some rudimentary way, so I won’t insult you by further extending the definition.

Grandparents

Now bring this into current context. Your grandmother and grandfather (dependent upon your age) probably worked one but no more than two jobs within their entire career. More often than not our elders worked in production-oriented capacities that required skill and muscle. However, they may not necessarily have called for the analytical thinking or intellectual prowess needed in so many jobs today.

I'm talking about the backbone of America: farmers, factory workers and craftsmen. It was the punch-in-and-punch-out world of railroads, mines, manufacturing and career military service. These were all respected career choices that reliably provided a good standard of living and relative security. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, they built the foundation of who we are. But inside that infrastructure, workers often worked an entire career without a great deal of change.

Parents 

As Baby Boomers came of age they ushered in a new post-war era that emphasized the ability and desire to prosper beyond what their parents achieved. Then our parents (I'm speaking to the Gen Xers within the context of this post) often took it upon themselves to climb the corporate ladder, pursue higher education and perhaps earn multiple degrees. They took more risks in order to go further in their careers.

It's hard to say whether this was driven by fiscal desires, economic desires or simply a new age of freedom and cultural exploration. But within this time we saw the birth of what I will refer to as “real technology." Television progressed from a novelty to an ingrained part of our culture, and technical developments spawned the personal computer revolution.

Members of our parents’ generation digested news and entertainment in small servings. “Advances” in this real technology were very few and far between. Consumers in the United States were spoon-fed information and entertainment by newspapers, local radio and three national television networks.

Media evolution was slow and easy to comprehend. One medium led naturally to the next.

Vaudeville and stage plays supplied the foundation for early motion pictures. Early TV news was nothing more than a moving picture of a man sitting in front of a microphone – much like radio news. The first television dramas, comedies and “quiz shows” were simply extensions of existing radio programs. Even today, much of what we see on the Internet is rooted in the commercial TV model.

This is very much within the makeup of my profession. I design strategies that contain storytelling. Within those stories is an endless array of multitasking components that can include user interface, user experience, the written word, video, advocacy for user-generated integration and countless other things that we haven’t even begun to explore.

Some might think what I do is fascinating, complex and compelling. But if you break it down to the human level of creating environments, you see the audible and visual experiences that used to be simple are now highly complex.

In the next post of this two-part series, we explore media digestion, forced adaptation and why we all feel so much anxiety. Stay tuned.