Thursday, June 5, 2014


Idiocracy: a film by Mike Judge

Have you seen this movie?  Don't.  As much as I wanted to hope that it would be a smart, scathing commentary on the American social system, it simply wasn't a great movie.  The concept is appealing, but the execution was somehow flawed.

That being said, this post is not a movie review.  Sure, I love Luke Wilson, and Mike Judge had me at OfficeSpace, but this post is about what this movie should have been about.  The dumbing down of our culture.

I'm feeling this right now as I stare at the brightly lit screen in front of me and attempt to generate some manner of creative output without actually using my hands - just pounding away on some buttons.  The concept behind this film is basically, "What if an 'average Joe' is cryogenically frozen as part of a military science experiment and then forgotten only to wake hundreds of years in the future and realize that he is the smartest man on the planet?"

But we're talking orders of magnitude more intelligent.  We're not talking the difference between Stephen Hawking and Jonah Hill, we're talking the difference between Albert Einstein and a sloth.  These people of the movie's future don't even understand simple irrigation.

Okay.  So, what the movie could have been, what it maybe should have been, was a commentary on how the planet became so dumb.

We all think we understand the process.  Technology leads to less time spent actually doing things that exercise that muscle we call a brain.  We allow machines to do our thinking for us.  We blame video games and television and movies for all of the "bad" in the world.

Is anyone reading this old enough to remember the invention of the pocket calculator?  How many people did you hear complaining about how using such a machine would make the population stupid?  Has it?  It's doubtful that one device has made an entire population stupid.  However, an extension of the pocket calculator is an adding machine and its extension is a cash register, and I cannot tell you how many cashiers today cannot count back change without the aide of that machine.

Does this sound accurate to you?  It certainly does to me.  I guess the question is:  "Is this a bad thing?"  There are a lot of opinions on the subject, but my gut reaction is that the answer is undoubtedly Yes.  And not simply because we're not accessing all of that information to advance our knowledge base, but that in reality we are not even being as "social" as we think we are.

Check out one of my favorite videos that perfectly illustrates this point.

What's interesting here is that I'm against all things social.  I'm happy being a recluse and not seeing or speaking with anyone for days on end.  I don't really Facebook or Tweet all that often, but when I do I am more than likely re-posting something I found amusing or poignant.  I have a smart phone, but I don't pay for a data package.  Instead, I use my phone as a phone.

However, I am just as guilty of the "Smart Phone, Dumb People" era as the next guy.

Let me ask you this?  How many of you crawl out of bed every morning wishing you had a few more hours of sleep available to you?  How many of you spend your day at a job that does not challenge you either mentally of physically; you simply wander around the halls of work performing mindless tasks and taking part in the theater of the corporate macabre?  How many of you come home from your grueling day feeling unsatisfied, but telling yourself "this is what people do," or "this is just a stepping stone on the path to what I truly want to do with my life"?  How many of you have said that for ten, twenty, or even thirty years?

How many of you come home from your day feeling so exhausted at having done nothing that you can't even think straight?  How many of you nuke some food, plop down in front of the television or computer and occupy the rest of your night with filler:  Facebook, YouTube, entertainment to be sure but really just the more of the same day in and day out, "stuff" to do just to fill the spaces between sleep and any other required task?

Does putting it out there like that make you feel like shit?  It does me.  How long ago did you give up on your dreams?  How long ago did you settle for less than who and what you are because, well, it's been so long that you can't even remember what you wanted to do?  How long ago did you let the priorities of other people supersede your own priorities?  ...all because it was easier...

I can honestly tell you, I'm on the cusp of that right now.

I graduated high school almost twenty years ago.  At that time I wanted nothing more than to spend my days being creative.  Photographing people, making them look amazing, writing amazing stories that moved people.  I chased after that dream, but always with one arm tied behind my back.  Tied to the realities I was told I needed to follow.  I needed to have a job - any job - so I could pay my rent and buy food.

I attended universities in pursuit of my goals, but ultimately the need for food, shelter, and financial stability - the needs that our society demands we have of risk being seen as a pariah and outcast - took over my life.  My mundane nine-to-five took priority over my creativity.  I tried to continue the pursuit of my goals in my off hours, but I was so mentally exhausted from dealing with the mundane at work that I couldn't focus on anything.  My brain needed time to reboot and recharge.

I wanted to do my job well at work so I could maintain the status quo that seemed so important to the world.  I didn't want to get fired for poor performance, and in truth I needed a promotion to afford my increased cost of living.  That smart phone wasn't going to pay for itself.  So I worked hard at my job.  My work ethic told me I should.  I was hired to do my best.  But in doing my best, I spent all the energy I had each day doing something for someone else and leaving me with nothing at the end of the day for my own pursuits.

Not only did I not have the energy, a second job meant I didn't have the time.  I was doing everything I could to simply feed myself and keep a roof over my head.

They always say, "If you really want to do a thing, nothing will stop you.  You'll find a way to do it no matter what."

I guess that's true, but it sure felt like I should have simply given up my dream and simply existed...and not lived.  But I wasn't going to do that.  I needed to know if I could continue to be the creative person I set out to be.  Yet, I had so many different things that were equally important to me.  I had a wife and a job.  We weren't having children, thankfully, but I had a way of life that meant something to me and I was afraid of giving all of that up to follow what had once been my dream.

I realize that dreams can change.  Maybe I wanted to be an astronaut one day, but fell in love and realized that I couldn't do both - that our mutual goals had changed my specific dream.  I wouldn't give up my wife for anything.  Even the chance to be a well sold author.  But I also know I don't have to, because she's fighting for me to do everything I want to do.  Some people might realize their family is their new dream - their wife and kids.  I'm grateful I don't have to make that compromise.

My dreams haven't changed.  My wife and I found a new place to settle and new jobs that would allow me the opportunity to have large chunks of time each year (seasonally) to spend working on nothing other than the creativity that I so desperately need to express.

I spent an entire winter writing my first novel.  Who knows if it will ever get published, but I'm trying.  Unfortunately, something happened.  I finished the novel and went right back into dumbs-ville.  It was almost as though my brain said, "Okay, we've had enough that creativity for a while, time to dumb it up a little bit."

I got lost in a world of video games for nearly a month, and then the seasonal job started again and again I don't have the time or energy to think about anything other than the job.  I have attempted to work on the outline for my next novel, and in the preceding months I have come up with very little.

Now, I have no one to blame but myself for allowing myself to be distracted by the video games.  That's all on me.  However, as I started work again this spring, and the season unraveled into a full-time job, a thought occurred to me.

Could it be that it isn't the technology that is making us stupid, but rather the demands our society places on us that are making us stupid?  Our cultures need for results in the workplace over quality of life seem to have a stiffing affect on people.  How can anyone go home at the end of the day, having spent the entire day building someone else a house, or crunching someone else's financial numbers, and still feel motivated to spend six to eight hours following their own dream?

How can anyone even think about doing that when they have kids to care for, or sick family members?

No.  Technology may be making our lives simpler and easier, but it is the demands we place on ourselves that are making us dumber.