The world is in the grip of a serious malady and that is “present shock”!! Before I go further, let me explain what I mean by present shock and why this particular phenomenon has such a “hold” over all of us and is leading us down a Rabbit Hole of unreality. Simply put, present shock is the term to describe how the convergence of our 24/7 media-saturated world and the “speeding up” of time and the acceleration of modern life, are all making us live for the moment and live in the moment. While living in the moment is welcomed by seers, especially of the Buddhist dispensation (the term they use is mindfulness), living for the moment means that we abandon longer-term thinking and submit ourselves to the exigencies of the moment. Thus, we are now in the throes of present shock, where everything happens now and what matters is the instant and the ever ending gratification of endless dopamine “hits” provided to us, courtesy of Big Tech and their “enablers” in media, business, and politics. Mind you, this term is not my original creation and the credits should go to Douglass Rushkoff, one of the leading writers on tech and what is doing to our world. Rushkoff, in his eminently readable book on Present Shock, explains how the “pressure” to focus on the moment benefits only those with the means and the resources to afford “switching off” whereas we lesser mortals can only gawk at their indulgence, as we plebeians can only submit ourselves to the vicissitudes of the present, unable to do anything about the “coercive” power of tech and social media.
Having said that, I must admit that it is facile to blame media and tech alone for present shock, without taking a broader view of how we arrived at this situation. For instance, ever since the 1990s, when the internet emerged and when cable television went global, it has become commonplace for corporates to desist from giving longer-term guidances on their businesses, and instead, limit themselves to at most an annual forecast. Even that is now being reduced to quarterly and semi-annual guidances. While this is also due to the very real aspect of uncertainty over the longer term, it has something to do with the way stock markets are reacting more to shorter-term forecasts rather than longer-term guidances. Indeed, much of the corporate world globally routinely makes it a point to insist that their fundamentals are strong and hence, the longer-term outlook is bright, and at the same time, do not provide many details about long term strategies. This is also being encouraged by regulators and other stakeholders, wherein the focus is on “managing the present” rather than thinking about the future.
In the same vein, governmental agencies and bureaucrats too have abandoned any pretensions at longer-term planning and in the distance forecasts, as they realized that it is both unwise and risky to stick their necks out into the future, beset as we are by both absolute and relative uncertainty over what happens even a year from now. I must emphasize that the pandemic has ensured that this “myopic” outlook becomes the New Normal, since nobody, including the best “experts”, have no clue as to what would happen say, even a year down the line, let alone five years from now. With voters too being “consumed” by present shock, it is hardly surprising that politicians have caught on as the likes of Donald Trump thrive and “feast” on the present shock to the extent that they have become the torchbearers or the beacons for living for the moment. Indeed, present shock is so pervasive that the recently concluded COP26, the climate change conference, saw our ruling elites promise, somewhat nonchalantly, that they would embrace Net Zero strategies to be met decades down the line, as it is “convenient” to promise something by sometime in the future, when nobody would know, or worse, care what they have promised now. If such a serious world-threatening emergency like climate change can become a victim of present shock, then it is anybody’s guess as to how other equally pressing problems are being dealt with.
Part of the reason why we are embracing present shock is that the world has become an “overwhelming” place, thanks to the confluence of globalization, 24/7 living, and now the pandemic, where serious and deep thought about solving the problems of the world becomes so tedious and draining that it is easier to think of the present. Why are Millennials and Gen Zers, having ever-shorter attention spans and why are even Boomers and Gen Xes falling prey to bite-sized bits of information that are easy to digest? This is mainly because we have abandoned all pretence of “saving the world” and are instead busying ourselves into “amusing ourselves” with the 30-second videos and the aptly titled infomercials When the world seems like a Sisyphean Treadmill to nowhere, what better than living for the moment, rather than burdening ourselves with deeply exhausting pursuits such as how the world would say, ten years from now.
So, here we are with a “junkie like” addiction to the present that has become more pronounced after the pandemic as we are forced into isolation, with technology becoming our saviour and liberator. Forget the future, remember the past, and live in the present. I must say that this is also a “survival strategy” for our species, which evolution has made better than other species in surviving over the centuries. So, I am not the one to hector and harangue that present shock is bad and instead, I do want to believe that our brains will eventually find a way to adapt and adjust to this New Weirdness, till the time, we evolve into the next iteration that is crucial and essential for our collective survival and evolution. To conclude, maybe the Zen Masters can now be content that mindfulness is coming to our rescue in times of upheaval and disorienting change.
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