– Candlelight Zoom
It is time to put down our phones. Maybe even turn out the lights, light a candle, and consider less technological ways to bring light to our darkness, writes Debra Efroymson
DURING a Zoom call with an American friend recently, my electricity kept going out. The generator appeared to get frustrated and give up. Tired of being in the dark, I lit a candle.
‘This is the first time I’ve been on a Zoom with someone by candlelight,’ my friend remarked as I struggled to fan myself without putting the candle out.
The odd situation — a mixture of modernity and antiquity — made me ponder other aspects of our lives where the same contradictory mix applies. How we can send people to outer space but cannot make it safe to cross a road. How, with all of our technical and scientific breakthroughs, our futures are threatened because of the devastation of the climate crisis — and yet the more we learn about it and the more its effects become so clear as to be nearly undeniable, the more fossil fuels we burn.
Some have argued that human evolution simply has not kept pace with the rapid growth of social complexity. Just think about how many passwords we need in our regular lives! We are expected to be comfortable operating a wide array of devices, from motorised vehicles to computers and smartphones, and to adjust seamlessly to each new update and upgrade. We are overwhelmed by information and misinformation. And yet our bodies still work the same as ever, in the most basic ways: we still need clean air, potable water, enough food and clothing, and decent shelter. But those basic needs can be lost in the confusion of our rapidly changing world.
Heat dome, atmospheric river, bomb cyclone, flash drought, polar vortex, and thundersnow are just a few of the new weather phenomena that we are facing due to the climate crisis. Our lives have also changed dramatically because of Covid-19. There are other changes too, so fast that we struggle to keep up with them. Even before Covid-19, communication and friendship had dramatically changed their meanings from before smartphones and Facebook. A generation ago parents told their children to come inside; now we tell our children to go outside. Are we happier? Healthier? Are our lifestyles more sustainable? Or are we just better at distracting ourselves while towns go under water, forests burn, and ever more people face intense weather and pandemic shocks?
Personally I am grateful for the way that Covid-19 has forced me to slow down. I am also terrified of the climate crisis and fairly clueless as to how to convince those with power that we need to rein in the fossil fuel corporations and the billionaires in order to have hope for a decent future. It concerns me that in our vast arrogance, we believe that we can find technological solutions to all our problems — even while those solutions are clearly failing us. I wish we could see that simpler ones, such as returning to a lifestyle less dependent on fuel, could allow us to solve multiple problems simultaneously.
And yet, despite all the problems facing us, I remain an optimist. Perhaps at some point one of these new shocks will wake us up. Maybe the extent of the changes we have made for Covid-19 will remind us of what an emergency response looks like. Perhaps we will finally make the dramatic changes needed to postpone the worsening climate emergency and other environmental disasters caused by human stupidity and greed. Perhaps the dichotomy between our technological achievements and our dismal practical failures to address homelessness, hunger, violence and other pressing issues will remind us to be less arrogant and to focus more on basic needs.
When we groan at being asked for yet another password, or gently ask our children to put down their phones and actually talk to us, or get a headache after spending hours studying or working in front of a screen (only to relax in front of another one), perhaps we can pause a moment to reflect on our modern life. Is it really all it is cracked up to be? And if we are so advanced in some ways but are destroying the very livability of our planet, it may be time to acknowledge that we have made some serious missteps and need to rethink our direction.
Perhaps it is time to put down our phones. Maybe even turn out the lights, light a candle, and consider less technological ways to bring light to our darkness.
Debra Efroymson is executive director of the Institute of Wellbeing, Bangladesh.