I used to drive past these old rundown apartments everyday. I made my way past them day after day…year after year…for well over a decade. Sure, I had seen them, but I hadn’t really seen them. And I certainly hadn’t crossed paths with the people who called it home–not living in my own little customizable world. But, that’s the way our culture has become: individualistic, customizable, tailored made just for you, the customer.
I had driven past those dank and dingy apartments for years and I hadn’t really seen them–that is until one day. One afternoon I had an occasion to bring my former employer there to follow up on a recently released parolee who was part of her outreach program.
As we ventured past the dusty and dilapidated gates I was struck by two inescapable epiphanies–insidious little ideas that burrowed into my mind and sought to destroy my selfish and willfully oblivious peace of mind: 1) I wondered how anyone could ever live like this–I couldn’t understand it–especially in our modern, supposedly civilized society and 2) I wondered how I could have been so blind to them for all these years. How could I have not seen their plight? I had heartlessly driven past them hundreds of times over the last decade, but I was too busy listening to the radio or fiddling with my hair. Was I having a good hair day today? Or a bad hair day today? Pressing concerns for superficial people such as myself.
But, that’s the way of the world. I had my blinders on in full force. I chose not to see. I chose to be ignorant. I was living in my own little world–as Simon and Garfunkel said I was an island. But that’s America: fully customizable. You can have it just the way you want it.
In our monetized little world where everything is dollar driven–where ads are placed in every nook and cranny–where every facet of our existence is custom fitted to deliver the most pleasant, pleasing and profitable experience it can–from programmable DVR’s to preset satellite radios. Algorithms that run everything from your Facebook page to your search engine. Frighteningly intuitive technology that only seeks to show you more of what you like and less of what you don’t like. It’s all about likes and dislikes. The world has become like a TV show run by some focus group whose only concern is the bottom dollar.
As you tread these trodden trails online you create little electronic inroads and the technology behind it pulling the strings learns what you like and what you don’t like. Did you know that based upon your likes Facebook is more accurate at picking a potential partner for you than any personality test or even your closest friends? I’m just glad that technology is in the hands of people who have our best wishes in mind and not in the hands of someone seeking to make a profit.
In this capitalistic world where “the customer is always right”—where every facet of your unique experience is monetized, the technology in charge only seeks to please you, to only give you more of what you like and less of what you don’t. But, sometimes we need to see what’s disagreeable and disturbing.
We need that. We need to take off the blinders, jump out of our ruts and experience a world teeming with unexperienced beauty and unimaginable suffering. It’s two sides of the same coin. You can live on your own little island, tucked away in your own little world playing your XBox or fiddling with your hair…blind to the suffering of the world until that anguish reaches a breaking point and comes knocking at your door. When the genocide a half a world away becomes the global conflict you can no longer ignore.
That was a piece I had published: