Last week I went to a restaurant and the entree menu listed a grilled chicken salad. I wanted an entree-sized house salad, exactly the same thing as the grilled chicken salad but without the chicken. When I asked the twenty-something waitress if they could make that for me she told me that she would have to find out, but she doubted it. “You have the lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, right?” I asked. She nodded. “You have the bowl?” She nodded again. “But I can’t order that,” she said. “What’s the problem?” I inquired in true Nicholsonian style. It was then that she informed me that there was no button on the computer for her to punch in the information and therefore I could not have the meal. She generously let me know however that I could pay for the grilled chicken salad and pick off the chicken, but that was the best the computer would allow. “So the computer will “allow” me to pay $18.95 for a simple green salad without any chicken, which would be the same price as if I had the full meal? And then, I will have to pick off the chicken as well?” “Precisely,” she said smiling and moving away from the table. “let me know what you decide,” she called back cheerfully. Technology has rendered us helpless idiots. The monkey has locked the scientist in the cage and we are all behaving as if all is well. What happened to our human ability to make a decision, to determine what we want to happen? What happened to self reliance? Emerson wrote his famous essay on self reliance in 1841. It may have been over 150 years ago, but all these years later, my goodness does it still apply. As Emerson wrote, “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true… that is genius. ….. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. … A conformist merely repeats the techniques discovered by earlier innovators, but a creator boldly claims that he can do something better than everyone else preceding him. A creator is essentially someone who doubts the alleged wisdom of the status quo and who has the courage to think matters through for himself.” So where have all the creators gone? How did we become a society of conformists, blindly accepting the information provided by some invisible “they” hiding inside a computer. We have become a society of sheep, allowing the computer to dictate where we travel, what we can and can not do, no longer sourcing our own authority, our own genius. We have given up on the human mind as our leader. In the process, we are becoming a community of fools, passive jesters who have turned away from our own brilliance in favor of a little box of chips. Emerson goes on, “The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun. … His notebooks impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit.” How true this is for our day. Technology has turned us into a nation of sloths, proud of the opportunity to do nothing. We have become disabled by the softness of our chairs, and disappeared into the easiness that we worked so hard to create. We have made ourselves so comfortable as to no longer be able to get up and actually move. And finally, Emerson writes, “A foolish consistency is the hobglobin of little minds… With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. Speak what you think now in hard words , and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today. Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” When we defer to our computers, our storehouses of already digested information, and turn away from our own intelligence, our own creativity, and most importantly the unknown and untapped, we are choosing consistency at the expense of greatness. We ask those who supposedly know instead of asking ourselves what is true, right now, even if it was not true a moment ago. What do those who already know know? I say nothing that we do not already, and nothing that we do. We are disappearing ourselves when we make information, the already known, the already decided, into the G-d of out time. To be misunderstood, to dig into the unknown, into our own wisdom, this is what it takes to keep growing, to improve and evolve as a species. We are losing this skill and even this desire to consult our own intelligence, as the consistency and ease of information becomes the commanding force in our lives. We are choosing what is dead over what is alive, and making ourselves dead in the process.
To be self-reliant is to know and trust that we have the answers for ourselves, that our own intuition, and intelligence is the source of our greatness, and that we can be trusted to guide our own destinies. It has always been the creation of new ideas, and thinking out of the box (pun intended) that has led us down the path of growth. To think for ourselves is not necessarily the path of ease, but the path of ease is, I am afraid, the path of death, and if not death then most certainly of torpor. Our willingness to turn our lives over to the computer and let this finite box stand in for our infinite wisdom is perhaps the most frightening of all the dangers that this technological age has brought. We must reclaim our own authority, remember that we (and not a bunch of wires and cables) can and should decide what is possible, what we want to be true. We must wrestle back sovereignty over our own destinies, over the rules of our lives, re-establish the importance of our own personal and human intelligence, and autonomy. I for one (and I imagine a bunch of chickens too) am not okay with a computer making the decision as to whether or not I can have a chicken salad without the chicken.