Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What if a human battery takes a nap?

Remember that scene from The Matrix when they show the human batteries in the real world outside of the simulation? I hope you do. If you don't, you're probably starting college right now or are even a little younger--young enough to have perhaps been put off by the bad sequels so that you didn't want to see the first film.

The reason I'm wondering about this is because more and more often that image of human batteries imposes itself on the images I see in advertisements, in which an oddly chirpy voice says something about "new solutions" for increasing my "productivity."

The one that scares me the most is the one for an "energy drink" (ha! see that, human battery--energy!) that is meant to do something to disrupt the natural processes in your body after a meal--to produce an effect that counters the obvious need to slow down your activities as your blood circulation concentrates on digestion and nutrition, your necessary life processes, instead faking wakefulness to your synapses so that you can work, work, work. The chirpy voice tells you that you're getting rid of a bad and disruptive "feeling" rather than that your messing with cycles that you need in order to live. And then I see the drink at the campus store, right by the registers.

In the health center that my students try to avoid unless their cold symptoms begin to appear almost fatal, there are posters touting the importance of healthy sleep of at least 8 hours per night, praising power naps. But it's the elixir against the bad "feeling" that is much more approachable, its chirpy call, much louder.

Then there are those advertisements for new office-work software and the newest phones. A couple on horseback on a dreamy beach check their work email, a woman on a ski-lift follows the stock exchange. All smile, as being at work on your day off buys them a higher level in productivity heaven, a chirpy voice says something about time-saving. This morning I saw a new one: two children eating muffins, chocolate smeared around their mouths; superimposed on their faces, a graph their parent is inserting into his or her presentation. This is happiness, right? The children enjoying dessert with a parent hidden behind a laptop, since kids never do anything groundbreaking, why not just feed them, put them in a place where you can see them, and enjoy a productive day off with your software and data? Quality time and good work, right, human battery?

* * *

A student emails me asking where my office is, right before our scheduled meeting. She's right opposite the secretary's office, where there's always three people she could ask and they would be able to give her an answer. Or she could use her indeed very "smart" phone to find the office number in her email inbox or on the course website.

I get a lot of similar queries at random times of day and night. Queries about information that is usually equally accessible to me and the students. I hear that librarians sometimes get questions via text messages or chat about call numbers and full titles of books--which the student might just as well type into the library catalog instead of asking about them. So much energy wasted by imagining non-existent pitfalls, so much thinking perversely saved by instant access demanded of people you imagine as "keepers of information." And all it takes is a moment to stop, breathe--sometimes take that dreaded nap or relax into your after-meal energy slump--and ask these really very easy questions of yourself.

[End rant.]

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