Sunday, September 17, 2017

Press Any Key

I seem suddenly to be at a crossroads in my life – maybe it’s a mid-life crisis, I haven’t had one of those yet… My husband has had a few dozen since I met him 25 years ago, he’s changed careers more times than I’ve changed light bulbs, but so far I’ve just trucked along pretty much on the same path.

Mum said to follow my heart, it was the path to happiness she advised and so I did, as surely as a humpback whale follows the magnetic resonance of the earth. I loved art in all forms, and tossed with the idea of devoting my life to it, but I just wasn’t sure what purpose it served.

That bugged me a lot as a teenager, I remember puzzling over that and finding no answer – music, visual arts, literature, theatre, what was the point of any of them? They couldn’t be farmed or harvested or eaten or banked, you couldn’t build houses with them. Surely one would be foolish to knowingly follow in the footsteps of great artists such as Vincent Van Gough, James Dean or Graeme Green? The arts were unpredictable and mercurial, and as irresistibly enigmatic as the aurora borealis.

The turning point came at 19 when I discovered you could make music and art on a computer. It was like plugging in a neon sign that screamed ‘Katie’s raison d’ĂȘtre!’ – finally I could combine art with technology, I could retrofit passion with logic! Eagerly I set out to create alchemy from the two…

I always thought I was pretty smart embracing technology, I thought we were pals. I should have known I guess that Artificial Intelligence would hold no allegiances, that it wouldn’t hesitate for a minute in running my career aground, leaving me stranded in my forties like a beached whale as the industries that had kept me afloat were cheapened and gutted by the reach of the internet and globalisation.

The only surprise is that I didn't see it coming.

I thought the only degradation I’d be forced to witness in my lifetime would be of the Earth's ecosystems, I didn’t anticipate humans being added to the threatened species list so soon. I thought at least 
we had until 2040, when quantum computers would outsmart all of us and as Elon Musk forewarns, humans might become as quaint as house cats.

Of course, I realise now that like a lobster unaware of the pot being brought to boil, that it is the traits that make us human that are disappearing first. The things that define our species, the things we should hold as sacrosanct – language, poetry and politics, our ability to create and organise abstract thought, and all the many bittersweet foibles that make us human – are already being hunted to extinction by the hive mind of a global computer network, ironically of our own creation.

So many things we take for granted that underpin the fabric of our society, yet like the irreplaceable wonders of nature that still as yet have no claim to economic security and can be bulldozed in the blink of a developer’s eye, I realise I’m witnessing already the atrophying of human civilisation, for AI cares nothing for empathy, loyalty, or love. The internet is as cold and calculating as Cersei Lannister.

And sadly it appears we humans, once again, will only realise the value of what we had after it is lost. Our beauty is being eroded as we while away the time, eschewing novels for Bored Panda articles. It’s evaporating while we pat ourselves on the back for being cunning, undercutting and outsourcing through the net to faceless global competitors. Huge chunks calve away as herds of voters are click-baited into electing smiling cheshire cats who place their hands over their wallets when they are sworn in, rather than their hearts. Humanity will be gone before we can say ‘YouTube killed the Radio Star’.

So now I realise that art doesn’t have a purpose for a reason – it IS the purpose. It is the summation of our frail, mortal design, it is emotion and longing, and spirit.

Writing, music, film, photography, journalism, performance, singing, conversation, studying, cooking, sewing, making a home, nurturing a garden, growing a small business that services your community, caring for someone you love – these are the things that show our humanity. They are our expression of life. These things have no dollar value, that's why they are authentic, and I now realise – priceless. 

Look for these treasures and the people behind them, and when you find them support them like your life depends on it. Support the people who support you, do not accept indifference.

The traditions of shaking the hand of the person you are doing business with, of breaking bread with friends or family, of loyalty and honour – without these things we are nothing, we are as empty as endless zeros and ones on a page.

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