The automation anaesthetic

A long time ago, I learned to fly in a DeHavilland Chipmunk, which was, I think, the lovechild of a kite and a lawnmower. No automation, no assistance and which rendered a very intimate experience with the initial uncomfortable reality of “hands on” flight.

A little later, I bought an early Lotus Elise, which had a similar simplicity; no power anything from brakes and steering to windows. Driving it was (and remains) a joy. What is happening is felt and sensed, with nothing getting in the way of the information.

I found myself reflecting on this when searching online and considering how many intermediations there were between me and what I was seeking. The number of algorithmic assumptions and “assistances”, like the controls on a supercar that can make a mediocre driver (i.e. most of us), look for a brief moment like a star. It begins to feel a little like The Truman Show, where our hero increasingly understands that the world he inhabits is a carefully crafted set, and himself no more than a walk-on part. 

We are going through massive changes which will take decades to play out and settle into some pattern. We need to understand what is going on around us, not somebody (or increasingly, something) else’s sanitised and self-interested interpretation of it. We need to feel and sense what is happening to stay in control when the autopilot or traction control gets switched off.

I think that means two things.  We need to slow down enough to look carefully at what is going on around us and understand it differently. Not just intellectually but somatically through our bodies and emotionally through our heart, not some form of an alternative approach; it is what we do best as humans.  Secondly, we need to refine our information sources, and the best way of doing that is to consider whose opinions and values we rely on. No matter what media we have access to, there are only around fifteen people who matter, and they are the people who know you for who you are and who you know in the same way. A group of trusted friends is the best possible bullshit filter for the automated, targeted, partial information to which we are we are subject.

We may feel we are going faster with all the tools and automation we have at our disposal, but the reality is it anaesthetises us. 

We are heading, post-pandemic, into more complex challenges that need us to be awake, aware and in control of our lives.

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