Life on Mars
Is there life on Mars? This is an idea that has intrigued people for centuries although to date no proof has been found of past or present life on Mars. In a total different context, a more profane, yet probably more discerning question arose to me recently: is there life without Internet?
As Ross Douthat wrote in his insightful article “Resist the Internet” (New York Times –International Edition of March 13, 2017): “Definitely if you are young, increasingly if you are old, your day-to-day, minute-to-minute existence is dominated by a compulsion to check email and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram with a frequency that bears no relationship to any communicative need”. He goes even further and states: “It requires you to focus intensely, furiously, and constantly on the ephemera that fills a tiny little screen, and experience the traditional graces of existence-your spouse and friends and children, the natural world, good food and great art- in a state of perpetual distraction”.
It is clear to me (and everybody by the sake of it) that used within reasonable limits, smart phones and computers and tablets –as well as a myriad of wearable devices already for sale and the many more to come- also offer us new graces. It certainly delivers some social benefits, some intellectual advantages and contributes an important share to recent economic growth.
But –according to any measure we can come up with-, we are certainly not using them within reasonable limits. They are the masters, we are not. They are built to addict us, as the social psychologist Adam Alter’s new book “Irresistible” points out- and to madden us, distract us, arouse and deceive us. The smartphone is in the saddle, and it rides mankind.
Although the “uberization” of economy seems unstoppable -according to the Cambridge Dictionary (who has not waited long to incorporate this term), uberize means to change the market for a service by introducing a different way of buying or using it, especially using mobile technology-; I shall urge you to embrace “digital temperance”, to take back (at least) some control.
Mr. Douthat theory goes even further and in a provocative – but not unreal comparison- he adds: “And the Internet, like alcohol, may be an example of a technology that should be sensibly restricted in custom and in law.” I might not agree with all measures he proposes in the above mentioned article, but some minimal attitude change would not damage any of us: what about toughen laws against cellphone use in cars (at least, before autonomous car become the norm)? or create corporate norms that strongly discourage checking emails in a meeting? What about refraining the consumption of social media – especially since there are excellent reasons to think that online life breeds narcissism, alienation and depression?
Coming back to my first question: is there life on Mars? Cumulative evidence is now building that the ancient surface environment of Mars had liquid water and may have been habitable for microorganisms. But Scientifics are also certain that the existence of habitable conditions does not necessarily indicate the presence of life. I am not sure there can be “life” without Internet -or better said, I doubt many of us are willing to even think about it- but it’s in our best interest not to forget too quickly that not many years ago, life without Internet was not only possible, but the only real thing, and it was not so bad either.