Humans. We are like cicadas, swarming and impossible to ignore.
I recently accompanied my wife and daughter to Taughannock Falls where they hiked and I found a place in the woods to sit. Due to what I hope is a temporary malady, I was limited to the more stationary exercise of vigorously moving my fingers while writing this column. Beneath a swaying canopy of giant trees, all I could pay attention to was humans.
Cars were legion. Also like cicades, they teemed and swarmed. Automobiles turned left and right and in and out into the myriad parking lots that scar the landscape. When they burrowed into their allotted spaces multitudes of the species pour out of them.
All ages were present, gawking and squawking and talking. Older forms of the creature, wearing loud-print shorts hanging to their knees and many wielding expensive looking walking sticks, were abundant. Big floppy hats were everywhere. I had one myself, a straw panama of which I am fond. Even so, I could still recognize how comical they are. Backward baseball caps were the favored couture of younger rovers and hikers.
For a trail that is nearly manicured, and not very long or difficult to hike, there was an enormous amount of expensive gear being lugged. That is a very human quality — to have more than necessary. Backpacks bulged with who knows what and huge water bottles hung from belts on waists. Hiking boots capable of summiting the most onerous Adirondack peaks, along with expensive Columbia shirts and pants, streamed across the landscape toward the trailhead. I’ve witnessed less prepared hikers at Glacier National Park and the Badlands. On the other hand, there were some folks wearing fewer clothes than a beauty contest and flip flops.
I couldn’t help but think of the scene in the movie, The Matrix, between Agent Smith, an evil computer avatar, and Neo, the Epic’s hero. “It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals,” Smith smirks. “Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not…” Then he declares that humans are actually a virus.
Just then a middle-aged couple walked by where I sat with a computer in my lap while typing a Google search into my smart phone. I caught what seemed like an incredulous look in their eyes. There I was, held in the shade of fifty foot tall trees with bird songs and insect tweets a symphony to bath my ears, but their glare said it all. I surely appeared to them as a slothful appendage of godless, soulless, technology oblivious to the beauty of my surroundings. In other words, a human.
Then I suddenly saw myself: A human acting like a human, while critiquing other humans. I was the perfect example of the essential problem with social media, which is technology used to create an enormous distance between members of the same species sharing the same spaces — the same planet.
Our computers and smartphones, and the news media too, tend to ignite fragmentation instead of helping us seek equilbrium within our species. No doubt, we are a problem for each other and the planet, but we need not make it worse.