Friday, December 21, 2012

Life in a Straightjacket

1. Everything is automated, instant, in a cycle, and dead.

2. Machines automate the elections and the cheating that goes with them. It’s automatic politics, like instant coffee. There are vending machines for coffee, too, for those who stay awake late into the night until sunrise, especially those living across different time zones where the sun is never the same. People converse across distances through mobile phones, the internet in general, social networks in particular, online chat rooms notwithstanding. One can be an instant friend online, or an instant enemy, maybe an instant stalker. Old friendships and old romances are rekindled, set ablaze in less than three minutes, which is about the same time it takes to “cook” instant noodles. Kaldereta in a tin can is instant, and preparing it consumes less time than boiling water or rekindling romance. So is canned Adobo, or Mechado.

3. Are we still beholden to nostalgia? Do we really intend to preserve the past? Or have we simply run-out of new concepts, new ideas, and new experiences? We must be dry. If that is so, the old — far and almost entirely disconnected from us — is that which is new to us, an ocean to quench our thirst. The old is the new. We were born estranged from the past, with only anthologies to steer us to their direction, and we yearn for it. A strange but oddly familiar creature, this remnant of the bygone years. Strange, because the past is not a duplicate of the present, and neither is the present a mirror-image of the past. Oddly familiar, because the past still somehow resembles the now, and the now has certain shades of its predecessor.

4. The limbs of the old colonizers are gone, in their place their shadows, formless — and therefore more dangerous — but real. Vintage is back. Retro has returned, and the oxymoron of an idiom prevails: The King is dead! Dead! Long live the King!

5. Our memory depends on machines, these automatons that, by themselves, only have the power to archive but never to reminisce. We upload photos online after we have edited them with our virtual tools, as though the pictures will always be flawed in their raw format. The camera is digital, and so are the images they capture, and therefore suitable for virtually filing images that are, in essence, defined by the “byte,” that smallest unit that can reduce everything into a mere “file size.” The result: a clutter of bytes, a clutter of our little corner of the universe. But we create specific photo albums in our bid to be more Apollonian than Dionysian — in other words, in our effort to put things in order, to forestall confusion amid chaos.

6. It is interesting when someone says “My hard drive, my USB, still has this so-and-so ‘memory’ left.” Its emptiness, the complete absence of stored data in the physical device, is its largest possible memory pool. Sixteen gigabytes in the device is sixteen gigabytes without anything in it. Put a file in it and its memory is decreased. Its limit, therefore, is its memory. But the human memory expands when more is in it. It grows as it is used.

7. The dead walk among us. The need to remember has turned into an urgent, prized task. It has become a task, no longer a natural function of the mind. We buy planners, even the pricey ones, or earn them as rewards from our eager consumption of overrated coffees, and we cherish these objects intended to remind us of what has been said in the past about the future, like trysts, or job interviews, possibly vacations to elsewhere, so that we can meet the “plan.” The planner assumes the role of a capricious trophy, a valuable possession, giving us hope or assurance that we will remember, that we will not forget, as though our lives depend on it. We have grown fearful of surprises, of things immediate and unplanned, because they ruin our schedule, our prearranged routine. We have become inclined to settle in the comfort of predetermined events. Those things unforeseen, knocking on our doors with urgent haste, are met with panic, anxiety, distress, sometimes violence. “How can this be?” the ignorant asks in his argot, stupefied. “It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t written. How then am I supposed to remember, and thus act accordingly, to something that previously did not exist?” And in such tragic affairs we are somehow brought back to our humanity, of our being human, humbled, such unguarded offensives against our desire for ludicrous certainty. Suddenly, we realize that something was amiss, or remiss, and in the back of our minds there is the lingering thought that our plans are very vulnerable, weak, perennially at the mercy of the unknown. But these moments are fleeting, these episodes are mere lucid intervals, and we return among the dead no sooner than we are able to regain what is left of our sensibilities.

6. The accidents in life are no longer immaculate. Spontaneity is a fossil looked upon with utter disdain. Surprises are to be frowned upon, are prohibited to rear their heads, or are not given the permission to take form. Our lives revolve on a planner. The ink on it is sacred. The paper is holy. What is written has been written, cast in papyrus worth seventeen or eighteen cups of coffee. Its fate cannot be undone. We want the power of control, and we want it now more than ever.

5. We set goals but we refuse to consider margins for error. Error is for the weak, we say. But whoever said that we are eternally strong to begin with? We are human, and, therefore, we are bound to err. There are the accidents, and there are the direct but unanticipated consequences of our will. There will be errors, and there must be margins for them. Only the brave ones are crazy enough to give error its due space. That is why people are sometimes strange. The strange ones are the living.

4. Everything is dogma. Even the refusal to subscribe to one is guilty of the same accusation. “I do not subscribe to a dogma because I am a freethinker” is dogma, an ignorant yet proud one at that. These days, hipster is mainstream while mainstream is overrated, and anything that is overrated is protested against by shying away from it, or by destroying it within us like vaccine is to virus, in sum by becoming hipster. It’s a cycle of dogmas in a continuous flux, like the seasons that come and go.

3. It implies, however, that there is recognition, that we are able to recognize that this is hipster, or mainstream, perhaps overrated, or whatever label we ascribe them, and it is precisely this capacity to recognize that impels us to move from one phase to another, forward or backward. Yet the dead walk among us. The dead recognizes nothing, hears but does not listen, touches and is touched but does not feel, sees but does not envision, and is necessarily trapped in his own quagmire, unable to recognize, unable to move, paralyzed as it were, turning instead to the lure of instant gratification, or anything that takes less than three minutes to satiate our inadequacies and inefficiencies, no matter how partial and temporary, resolving to pursue the automation of all things, reconfiguring the old so that it will somehow look as good as new, so that the only practical need for memory is to help us to mechanically retrieve the past instead of compelling us to reminisce like human beings.

2. This is life in a straightjacket — automated, instant, in a cycle, and dead.

1. And there is nothing inside of it.

0. Except a corpse.

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