Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


In the summer of 1967 in San Francisco, a young American poet on the outskirts of the Beat generation wrote a poem called ‘All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace’. Richard Brautigan was, and remains, a rather obscure, underappreciated figure but his poem about ‘mammals and computers/[living] together in mutually/programming harmony’ has outlived him. The ideas behind the poem are deceptively complex considering its rather childlike vocabulary and buoyant, almost naive sounding rhythm. He imagines a utopia in which creatures and their technological creations coexist peacefully. However, the utopia that he imagined was that ‘machines of loving grace’ would be watching over us. This could be read as suggesting that humans will become infantilised with respect to our protective technological counterparts. Brautigan is perhaps easily dismissed today as a curious, but somewhat embarrassing example of the most idealistic facets of the hippie movement. Whatever you may think of his work, the idea of coexisting on ostensibly equal terms with a computer may seem odd. 

In the modern world, many people seem inseparable from their phones or tablets and some medical professionals have already started diagnosing people with technology addiction. The problem with this is that it is so easy to succumb to since so many aspects of our lives necessitate that we be online, or reachable. It is strange to think that there are whole events that are organised without the relevant parties actually speaking to each other at all. All you need to do is set up an event page on Facebook and wait for people to signal whether they are available, unavailable, or as yet ambivalent. Of course, many people are already pontificating on the ill effects of technology. Whether it has any downsides depends on how you use it. While there are lots of things that you can do on your smartphone that may not seem all that productive (cyber bullying being a rather obvious example), there are lots of ways you can have a healthy relationship with technology. Here are a few that you should consider: 

If nothing else, smartphones are definitely convenient and can save someone’s life in the case of an emergency. However, they can also be useful in less time sensitive situations as well. If you want to Talk To A Dr Online, or use a variety of apps to check things like your heartbeat (if it is too fast, you should seek medical attention) to ones that will help you keep track of your calories, you can use your smartphone to do it.  Smartphones are also good when you find yourself stranded, perhaps by a cancelled train or bus, or just by being out on a night out and not knowing exactly how to get home. There are lots of apps that can hook you up with a driver near you.  If you are on a train or a bus though, and you’re bored, your smartphone can help you out. You do not have to go with games though. The Poetry Foundation App introduces you to new poems and hopefully improves your life in the process. 

However, maybe the best thing to do, even if it is just for an afternoon, is to take a break. Go to the park and stare at the clouds for a while. You might be surprised at just how relaxing it is.

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