Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Brave New Mall World

Never going to a mall has its down side. It can feel like an alien landscape when one re-enters after a long absence. Jean and I walked there last Saturday since it was too rainy to do our usual outdoor walk.

At times it feels like playing human pinball. People are side-by-side barely moving, and we come dodging and darting through hoping to sustain a certain heart and respiration rate for an hour or so. Three laps on each level usually does it. By then we are more than ready to leave.

Subtract the stuff made in China and the entire mall would implode. Just like LA without the cars and all the roads they require. Take them away, and the metropolis would fit in 1/10 the space.
As if mall stores didn't have enough stuff, there are concourse kiosks to further entice us--half of them trying to sell us new phones and blackberry-type devices.
And all over the place there are younger humans who are perhaps the early prototypes of the bionic hybrids we are sure to become in less than two decades. Some boys, but mostly girls. They walk, zombie like, led around by rectangular electronics held before them, usually in their right hands, like some kind of modern day divining rods. Their right thumbs flail like the wings of a hummingbird. They are texting. Some send and receive as many as 400 a day. They do this indoors, outdoors, at school, shopping, at the movies, probably even while swimming or playing tennis--if any still do that.
A new medical condition may be arising before our eyes: carpal thumb syndrome.
What do the constant texters not see of the world when the horizon has foreshortened to the length of their forearms, extends no further than their fingertips for so much of the day?
When attention span and thought are spread so broadly in bleeps shorter than a Twitter tweet, are brains learning to focus deeply on anything?
Is deep, reflective thought even possible for a new generation of humans? I'm not sure if humans who haven't developed along the way the ability for critical and deep thought, for ability to focus, will suddenly be able to pick it up later in life. I'm not sure we'll be humans, at least the kind of humans that have brought us to this level of development, without the thought processes that have been our nature for millennia. Based on what we now know about the development of the brain, I'd say the odds are strongly against it.
And how will that generation of humans raise and socialize their own young? We really have no earthly idea, do we? Not to worry, though. There's an ap for that.
This probably sounds very judgmental from an old guy who can't keep up. Maybe I'm wrong. I dearly hope I am. Reports from veteran teachers in primary schools tend to back me up, though. Again and again they report a shift in the kids they've seen over the past 25 years. But the real wave hasn't hit yet. Give it a decade or so.
Is electromultitasking a wondrous gift or an impediment to staying focused on anything? Do artists paint better while multi-tasking? Has anyone ever truly mastered the piano or the cello by multi-tasking as they do it?
Maybe we will be like the store: Forever 21. Maybe 21 is the new 13 in our brave new mall world of the mind.
But we can still buy shiny crosses, now barely distinguishable from the NY of the Yankees, the Mercedes-Benz star, the ankh symbol from ancient Egypt, or the Superman "S". All made in China. Unlike most of the people in the mall, I still remember when we made things here. Which makes me old and obsolete. Mall world culture has no need for elders (not synonymous with "the elderly") because culture is now electronically driven by the least experienced humans and their devices, not wisdom driven by those with the most experience and context under their belts. If you've ever felt like a river barge being pushed by a tiny tug that hasn't been where you are, it may not be a coincidence.
Brave new mall world unfolding before our eyes.

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