A Book of Human Alienation
In recent times, I have read a bit of science fiction. While this was a genre I used to read often when I was a teenager, I ventured into different genres of literature as I grew older. I was about to write ‘as I aged’, but then I stopped myself from writing this phrase. My parents gave me many things, and one was the philosophy of never allowing yourself to age. I don’t remember which book drove me to this one by Arthur C. Clarke, but one theme that I took from the book was that of human alienation from the natural world.
The story itself is simple and Arthur C Clarke set the stage millions or billions of years into the future. However, sometimes it is good to go backward before we go forwards. So, I will travel back to the 19th century, come back to the times in which we live before I take you into Arthur C. Clarke’s future world.
So, let’s travel to the 19th century, and learn about the world Henry David Thoreau lived in, and wrote about when he lived next to the Walden Pond. I will admit I don’t possess the courage to do what he did because I am much too addicted to my material comfort. Yet, in my lifetime, I have seen many changes. When I lived in Bombay many years back, I’d go to the market, choose a chicken, and observe as the butcher cut it. During my college days, we were required to supervise the butcher, as he cut the goat for our evening dinner.
Today, we go to a supermarket, and buy a leg wrapped in polythene, or order it using an app on our smartphone. If you analyze this, you may realize that we have stepped a few levels away from nature and, in doing so, are causing Thoreau’s soul to squirm.
While driving, we use Google Maps and, in doing so, we allow ourselves to rely on artificial intelligence to guide us. I shudder to contemplate the day when driverless cars overtake our lives.
Human alienation from nature is not the preserve of some future race. It is happening now, and ever since the Industrial Revolution began, we want to conquer nature and not live with it. We aim to be God, and in doing so, distance ourselves from each other and from the natural world.
The Future World.
In this future world, people have gone even further away from nature. In fact, fear drove the people who designed the city–fear of nature, mortality and the unknown. People don’t die but go back to Memory Banks to be ‘reborn’ and allow the rules of the city to guide them. They don’t feel genuine emotion and avoid going to the edge of the city.
The Central Computer rules them and takes all final decisions for them, overriding the council when required. Now, pause. Then, ponder over this and consider the consequences. Human alienation is complete.
Next, ask yourself which direction the world is heading. Are we headed for a sterile future in which we live boring, clinical lives? This may not be as bizarre as you may like to believe.
Now, you may ask me: what does this have to do with photography? We have moved from the world of chemical processing to the world of digital processing and are moving to an age in which artificial intelligence runs many editing software platforms. Yes, these programs eliminate much drudgery from our editing and help us become ever more productive. However, as the machines penetrate deeper into this world, we forget the basics of image-making.
When you look at many images on social media and compare them with images that people like Minor White or Kertesz made, then you realize that many of today’s images are sterile in their perfection. What they gain in technique, they lose in heart and soul.
Finally, I’d like to ask you to read a book called, “In Praise of Shadows”, and reflect upon it.
Will human alienation be the defining motto of humanity’s future?
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