Imagining a Disconnection from the Matrix

I realize evermore that, for instance, I cannot live without a “cell phone” (mobil, in Sweden) if I want to conduct certain transactions that I currently deem necessary. This was not so 20 years ago.

I have become addicted to search engines, wanting (often feeling an urgent need) to verify my understanding of a word or phrase, or to learn about a certain person, idea, or event. I used to go to a more-or-less current dictionary or encyclopedia or read a pertinent book to satisfy such needs. A difference between the ‘me’ then and the ‘me’ now is the vast store of information that is generally available to me and the vastly increased pace of its processing I have allowed myself to be swept along with.

‘Oh, it’s just your advancing age’, you might say. Yes, I’m 83, but my nervous system seems intact, and I have the advantage over younger people in having had much experience and having been mostly conscious—that is, self-examining—from when my memories first begin.

To get to the point: I find myself dwelling, more and more, on the metaphor of ‘living in a cave’—to be independent of all electronic devices which, in the aggregate, I vividly perceive as “The Matrix”.

I had a vision of the ordinary type when I was 53 years old. I had occasion to travel, round trip, from California to Dallas, mostly on Interstate Highway 40 which passes for 800 miles through the northerly portions of Arizona and New Mexico. On each of the two legs of the trip I felt a kind of beckoning, a reaching out of ‘something’ from north of the highway. The geography of that place has as a major reference point “Four Corners” where the states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet at an elevation of almost 5000 feet. I knew that Native Americans of more than one tribe lived in the area, and that the greater area surrounding the ‘corners’ provided mystical experiences for many visitors, and certainly for the original inhabitants.

I have never let go of this feeling (or it hasn’t let me go) for 30 years.

Now, here I sit in semi-isolation to prevent the latest pandemic from reaching me, or reaching me too soon, with plenty of time for reading, thinking, remembering, etc., in addition to brief trips with Eva to our communal garden and local shops for necessaries—keeping our distance (officially, 2 meters) from others, to be sure.

This quasi-house arrest (I do consent to the official recommendations) creates an opportunity for me to look at the possible course of my life beyond the pandemic. And, time to ponder how my life has changed, not necessarily for the better since I was absorbed into the Matrix.

What do I need it for anymore?

The major need is to be in contact with my children, all of whom are in the USA. But physical letters used to be sufficient to this need. When I was in the US Navy, 1954-1958, I wrote incessantly to my many elders and my sister and received answers. How precious they were, these pieces of paper with human marks on them.

As for information, I’ve read and heard enough. It’s getting repetitive. Anyway, I’ve now winnowed my books to the essential few hundred, plus another several hundred. I know where I stand with myself and the universe, which are constructs of my nervous system that have helped me survive to this point (and to procreate, more importantly).

I should be able to enter my own mystical state no matter where I am and then, perhaps, let go of my dependence on the Matrix.

But I still have that road trip experience lodged firmly, somewhere in me.

About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate American living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles, memoirs, and creative writing.
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8 Responses to Imagining a Disconnection from the Matrix

  1. I feel the same about the internet and “knowledge”. I don’t really want anymore of the latter. It doesn’t seem to fit in and does not answer any of the questions I used to want answered. Rather like you I reckon I know my place on the universe and most days am happy with it. I have a small interest in a fintech start up in the US with some pleasant guys but other than that have been pretty lazy recently. I appreciate the internet for stuff like this but in general, I too would prefer to live mostly in a cave. Well, I suppose that is exactly what I do. I have spent the week walking on cliffs and beaches.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. At 44, I’m almost half your age. The world of your childhood would have been even more technologically simple with the dominant media of text being the same as it had been since the invention of the movable type printing press. But like you, I remember the world that before. My dad is almost as old as you and the childhood he describes isn’t particularly different than my own childhood: team sports, street games, riding bikes, walking to school, playing with kids unsupervised after school, weekends that were mostly free to do as I pleased without endless planned activities, a lot of time spent outside in nature and in the surrounding neighborhoods, paper routes, going to the corner grocery store to pick up food, sitting at the dinner table for family meals, going to church on Sunday, weekly chores, etc.

    When I was a kid, we had a tv with only a few stations, as my family wouldn’t get cable until I was in 11th grade. Those network stations were still showing reruns of shows from my parents childhood and before, including plenty of black and white entertainment. So, I got a broad pop cultural education where I can make references to tv shows that were first on decades before I was born. The thing about tv is it was so limited back then. There was only one family tv and so we watched many shows together as a family. There wasn’t much programming directed only at kids, besides Saturday morning cartoons and a few afternoon shows. My closest friend is a few years younger than me, in having grown up on cable and much more advanced video games.

    We also had an Atari system when I was a kid, although the games were few and simple — we didn’t play them obsessively and spent more time outside. There was even a family computer in the house back in the late 1980s and my dad had the equivalent of the internet through his university job when I was in high school during the early 1990s, but I never used it and didn’t really know what it was. Even in high school, the computer was basically just a fancy typewriter, as far as I was concerned. I grew up with physical books, magazines, and newspapers. When I needed info such as for a school paper, like you, I had to look to a hardbound reference book, either on the family’s bookshelf or at the library. I find physical books comforting and surround myself with them.

    All of that has dramatically changed. I just wrote about new media technology and how it alters our experience, identity, and behavior; in particular, how we relate. I’ve wondered about how this is more fundamentally changing us also in our offline lives, the so-called “real world”. I get what many people mean by “The Matrix”. As I point out in my recent post, it’s not only that the image and video has become more dominant, as people now also consume more written text than ever before in history. The change isn’t simply in the kind of media technology but how much we are swamped in. Mediated reality has become the norm, which was not true not that long ago.

    My parents are college-educated, worked in education (as a teacher and a professor), and my dad is an intellectual (also, one grandmother was a teacher and one grandfather was a well-educated minister). But when I was growing up we only had a hundred or so books in the entire house, along with some odd magazines and the daily newspaper. Text was something that was additional to everyday life, not something through which all of known reality was mediated. Text was useful when needed, but there wasn’t much need of it most of the time. Back then, it would’ve been incomprehensible the idea of endlessly scrolling through social media, online comments sections, and web search results.

    The main difference between you and I is that I experienced this particular technological revolution much earlier. The hints of a new age of media was even apparent before you were born with the rise of telegraph, telephones, radio, film, and tv. But few people imagined where it was heading and what it would become. Anyway, the society-wide shift was further along by the time I became aware of my place in the world. Media was increasingly used in the classroom during my school days. Even though I didn’t have much access to internet until my early 20s, it really blew me away when I did get it. The human brain is still growing and developing until one’s late 20s. I remember the sensation that the internet was rearranging my brain and altering my way of thinking. I could feel my mind creating new connections while I slept after a day online.

    You, on the other hand, already possessed a fully developed brain and a mature identity by the time this new wave of new media came along. The generational divide increases with each generation. Your generation built the computer and internet technology in its most basic form. But it was my generation that shaped the internet world as we now know it. Most of the search engines, social media, etc were invented or heavily influenced by GenXers. Millennials and those following simply were born into it all and so inherited it from day one. As a late GenXer, I can relate to the world that formed your generation. I too was a child and young adult of the Cold War when fears and sometimes moral panic about new media and technology really took hold.

    I find fascinating the history of media changes, the responses people have, and the long term impact. People always reference Socrates complaint about written text replacing oral traditions, but many forget about how radical were the changes that came with the movable type printing press, including fears of a young generation being corrupted in the 18th century as they walked around obsessive-compulsively reading the new romance novels that were perceived as trashy and dangerous. We take written text as a given now, but at one time it was seen as almost a demonic force that possessed people’s minds and souls — and in a sense those who worried were absolutely right. It’s just we’ve gotten used to this way of being possessed by text.

    Now we are on our way to a new kind of media possession that will lead to a new era of a revolution of the mind, for good or ill. But it’s hard for an individual to know what to do about it while in the middle of such an era of change. I have to admit that I sometimes fantasize about escaping it all in becoming a hermit or monk.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ron Pavellas says:

      I think it’s worth keeping in mind that this ‘monk’ idea is recurring in many people. Although I don’t subscribe to it, there is a movement you may have heard of named “The Benedict Option.”

      Liked by 2 people

      • I assume you’re referring to Rod Dreher, right? I’ve come across the same basic idea from other sources, although I can’t recall offhand the author. There are those who fear we are entering another dark age. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but I agree that it’s a worrying possibility. I’m not sure that monasticism can do much good for society as a whole, however attractive it might be to certain individuals.

        My concerns, since a young age, more have to do with environmental catastrophe, which is related to technology as well. It doesn’t seem we are making the needed changes to avoid the worsening crisis. And one easily could argue we simply don’t have the capacity to even comprehend what we’re facing. The limits of our imagination and understanding, of course, are inevitably tied up with our media. I’m not sure what kind of media would allow us finally confront what we’ve tried to deny, suppress, and avoid for so long.

        The destructiveness of modernity has been well entrenched long before either of us was born. Way back in the 19th century when industrialization and urbanization took hold, there was a particularly powerful moral panic about civilization being in decline. I think people were right back then, but it’s simply taken a while for the full impact to become so severe as to be undeniable and unavoidable. At this point, we maybe already overshot the earth’s carrying capacity generations ago.

        Anyway, if you’re curious about an earlier version of our present moral panic, I wrote a detailed piece on it:

        Liked by 2 people

      • Ron Pavellas says:

        I wrote “An Oration from the future” addressing the destruction of modernity/progress/technology, as well:
        Perhaps you saw it already…

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Vasil Georgiev says:

    Hi Ron, Thank you for your blog article. It is very interesting, indeed. I like very much describing your dependence on the “matrix”. Your remembrances on the very peculiar places of your native country, letters on paper with your close relatives, earnings for your children, etc. Congratulations!I was engaged with reviewing the project of my former co-worker about the new methods of treating lung inflammation of COVID-19.. I tried to use the beautiful weather which should be over since tomorrow. Best, Vas

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Pavellas says:

      Thanks, as always, for your comment, Vasil. I wonder if we truly have to wait for an effective vaccine for us to (more or less) relax into what will be the new and presently murky “normal.”


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