The Yak Horns of Technology

A rustic came to a lama and asked him to teach him meditation. And the monk, realizing the mental aptitude of the enthusiast told him to sit in a quiet place and meditate on a yak. The simpleton did as he was directed and after some time when the monk came back to him to out his progress, asked him to come out from the secluded apartment. The rustic said, “How can I come out, the door is too small. These horns of mine do not allow me to get out.”

M.K. Spencer, relating a story told by Alexander David Neil

Working public service offers plentiful opportunities for observation of humans. My job is as a parking ramp cashier and the scenario forces drivers into specific options. There are multiple exit lanes, each with signs and machines, some with cashiers. One amusing pattern is how, once an individual enters a lane, often others will pile up behind them in a long line even though the other lanes are empty. It’s mindless herd mentality and normal human behavior. We are social animals, after all. Following others and doing what they do is a mental shorthand. It works most of the time.

There is another example that is even more amusing and odd. It is also different because it is less universal in involving a specific demographic, mostly young people. Some of the lanes have self-pay stations and there are sometimes problems, as often user error as technological failure. There is a ‘help’ button a customer can push to get immediate assistance, but many customers back up and go to a lane with a cashier. The problem is they usually forget to get their ticket back from the machine by hitting the ‘cancel’ button. So, they show up at my window without a ticket. I tell them they need to get their ticket because otherwise they’ll be charged for a lost ticket.

This gets their attention and also this is where it gets interesting. For older people, they might get irritable at the inconvenience, but they’ll usually get out of their car and walk over to the other lane to retrieve their ticket. Nothing complicated, just common sense, right? Well, let’s introduce into the equation someone in their late teens or early twenties, which at this point means those in Generation Z. Then the response is typically far different.

Upon hearing my explanation of the situation, the young person often looks at me with befuddlement and will tell me they don’t know how to get their ticket because a car pulled behind them. They try to figure out how to drive their car back over… and never doubt that they will try, no matter how much traffic is backed up behind them. If I don’t tell them to get out of their car and walk over, they might struggle for minutes or longer in a state of incomprehension. I usually help them out, but not always. I sometimes leave it as an experiment to see how long it will take them to realize they can get out of their car and simply walk over there.

Kids these days, I tell ya. I’m not without sympathy. It’s not their fault since it is how they’ve been raised, surrounded by and immersed in technology. It’s hard for them to think how to act without technology, to think outside of it. Of course, this makes them very adept in using technology, but sometimes technology is plain unhelpful. Sometimes, you have to get out of your car or get out of whatever other device your mind is trapped within. Those yak horns are only in your imagination.

12 thoughts on “The Yak Horns of Technology

    • The look of helplessness and distress is so amazing to see. I don’t mean to ridicule them, but it is genuine incomprehension. It’s almost as if I could see their thought process as they looked over at the machine where their ticket was. The gears of their mind were whirring along in trying to solve the impossible, within the confines of the technological paradigm of reality. What they really needed was a remote control drone to retrieve the ticket for them.

      On a positive note, the young are much more savvy in other ways. Old people may know how to solve problems manually, but old people also totally suck about media discernment. The younger generations, having grown up with tech media, are better equipped for telling facts from fiction. A recent study demonstrated this. So, even as they may be confused by certain simple tasks, they have highly tuned bullshit detectors. It’s a trade-off.

      • We are clearly/obviously in a culture of Borg Drones – and drones that have snapped.

        Generally people have been beaten and terrorized into submission through both direct blunt force and by a constant stream of propaganda.

        Evidence is abundant.

        A goon like Sam Harris hides behind a pose of “reason” while stating that we should assume cops are all malfunctioning psychopathic robots – which appears to play to legitimate fear of paramilitary cops but is really an appeal to surrender to tyranny.

        At the more nuanced end of the spectrum there’s Ginsberg’s Howl or just about anything by Springsteen and a hundred others.

        Ever see the show Weeds?

        There’s a scene where an older character tells a story to a group of 20 somethings.

        At the punchline they just sit there blank as a bricks and then they start looking at their phones.

        A nation of emotional mutes – except for the one’s who yell.

        Of course Ginsberg was talking about America’s dead end culture long before “smartphones” so it’s not as if things were better.


        • Some think of reactionaries or psychopaths as being just some particular group of people. I see the entire culture and age we live in as being reactionary and psychopathic. It’s a psychological plague.

          There is another piece I’m working on. It’s about the loss of free play for children. Their lives are regimented, controlled, and directed by adults. Some have noted the simultaneous rise of decrease of certain kinds of creative thought, as measured in some studies, and the rise of mental illness.

          Even on a completely mundane level, it does make you think. When people struggle to figure out how to walk over to retrieve a ticket, that doesn’t bode well for the future. It’s the increasing abstraction of the human mind. That is where the young excel, as shown in increasing complexity of art produced by young people.

          This increasing complexity, however, is maybe just creating more disconnection. How abstract can the human mind get before it is completely untethered?

          • Your story about the ticket conundrum reminds me of the Eloi in Wells’ The Time Machine.

            And your comment reminde dme of a 60 minutes piece from back in the late 90s about children who were so organized by their parents and schools that they were just about incapable of autonomous action.

            That in turn triggers a memory of an interview in which an actress said most communication in our time is passive aggressive.

            What she didn’t say is that it’s because people are being forced into submissive conformity and are being denied choice and are subjected to soul crushing propaganda that is all lies and distortions while living in a system that is coallpsing.

            Rage is misguided and counterproductive and passivity is collaboration or as the old sage of Ireland said: The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of a passionate intensity.

            It is clearly a fucked situation anyway we look at it.

        • I’m reluctant to pick on the younger generation. That is what older people did to my generation. And to be honest, I have more sympathy for the troubles of growing up in such a fucked up world. Old people have no room to talk. So much of the complaining about the youth these days is misguided. I’ll give some examples.

          It used to be the complaint, back in my earlier days, that kids were having too much sex, doing too many illegal drugs. Now, if you go by the data, kids are barely having sex at all and most of the drugs they are taking are being foisted upon them by adults. I’ve seen articles by old people now worrying that kids are waiting too long to have kids and civilization is going to collapse because of it or something.

          Apparently, back in the good ol’ days, kids had just the right amount of sex, neither too much nor too little. And no one worried about high schoolers getting drunk on the weekends since alcohol is the red-blooded American drug of choice.

          Here is another one. Books have been written on the youth losing empathy and becoming narcissists. There is data to support the argument, but it isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. I’d say it’s probably more of a shift of what kind of empathy, as seen in the differences between liberal inclusive empathy vs conservative exclusive empathy. Indeed, the young are becoming more liberal and maybe this shows up in some difference in empathy.

          My concern is in looking at other data. People have long loved to caricature Americans as a country full of narcissists. The thing is narcissism means something different psychologically than how it is commonly used. In one study, the Japanese on average tested as higher in narcissism than did Americans. It makes sense once you know what narcissism indicates.

          The Japanese are more likely to keep their problems to themselves and instead orient themselves socially. The focus of concern is society, not individuality and subjectivity. What this means is the individual is left alone with their own problems, which in psychological testing measures as narcissist, not exactly what most people think it means. Americans, on the other hand, love to talk about themselves but there is an unwritten rule in American culture: One must also be open, willing, and courteous in listening to others talk about themselves. Psychologically, this is non-narcissistic.

          It’s rather complicated. The Japanese may be more ‘narcissistic’ in this sense. Yet they are also more pro-social in having more culture of trust and honor, along with what appears to be a well functioning social democracy that supports the public good and takes care of its citizens. If that is narcissism, we Americans need more of it.

          I don’t pretend to know what it all means. I do think it’s safe to say the human mind is changing. And as with bicameral civilization, it might mean our collapse. But I don’t even know if that is a bad thing. Maybe we need to collapse. Something interesting might form out of the ashes. Or maybe a new revolution of the mind will be less dramatic. Living in a transitonal period is touh, no doubt.

          That is my main concern, not about the supposed problems of the young but about society in general that the young are inheriting. I do make an important distinction. Our society is reactionary and psycopathic, and this seeps into everything. None of us is immune, none escape. Still, those are worry most about are the truly sick minds who have embraced the madness, the wannabee demiurges of a fallen world.

          That is what kids these days are facing. God help them!

    • I wanted to emphasize one major change. As I said, kids are no longer given time, opportunity, and freedom for free play. This is particularly true of playing outside in nature and with other kids. Instead, they are kept constantly supervised and occupied. Every activity is directed by adults. Pick up games on the street on in yards still existed in my childhood, but they are essentially extinct now.

      The same thing is true in school. Recesses, art classes, and gym have received decreasing emphasis and funding. Every moment of their time is spent learning, doing homework, and being tested. And so unsurprisingly teachers teach to the test, as it is what they have to do to keep their jobs. Rote memory has replaced everything else. Creative problem-solving and creative writing are harder to test and, besides, they aren’t STEM.

      This has led to a measurable loss of creativity over the decades. As IQ has kept going up, creativity has gone down. That is shocking. Could the inability to figure out how to walk over to retrieve a ticket represent a loss of creative thought. It’s a simple problem to solve and yet it is beyond some young people to solve it. As I repeat, it’s not their fault. They are being put under immense pressure to constantly perform to rigid expectations, never allowed to simply be kids. It is only in play that kids learn creativity. We’ve done this to them.

      “It is sobering, therefore, to read Kyung Hee Kim’s recent research report documenting a continuous decline in creativity among American schoolchildren over the last two or three decades.[2]

      “Kim, who is a professor of education at the College of William and Mary, analyzed scores on a battery of measures of creativity—called the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT)—collected from normative samples of schoolchildren in kindergarten through twelfth grade over several decades. According to Kim’s analyses, the scores on these tests at all grade levels began to decline somewhere between 1984 and 1990 and have continued to decline ever since. The drops in scores are highly significant statistically and in some cases very large. In Kim’s words, the data indicate that “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”

      “According to Kim’s research, all aspects of creativity have declined, but the biggest decline is in the measure called Creative Elaboration, which assesses the ability to take a particular idea and expand on it in an interesting and novel way. Between 1984 and 2008, the average Elaboration score on the TTCT, for every age group from kindergarten through 12th grade, fell by more than 1 standard deviation. Stated differently, this means that more than 85% of children in 2008 scored lower on this measure than did the average child in 1984. Yikes.”

    • We have multiple uncontrolled mass experiments going on in our society. And the young are the guinea pigs. They are being fed a processed diet of high-carb foods, oxidative and mutagenic seed oils, food additives like glutamate and propionate, farm chemicals like Roundup, hormonal mimics in plastics, obesogens in fire retardants, and on and on. That is along with the massive drugging of children with psychiatric meds: antidepressants, antipsychotics, uppers for ADHD, etc.

      We’ve created this total system of social control with police in schools and with kids kept busy and not allowed to play, to go outside, to socalize normally. And for the poor and minorities, there is the everpresent threat and punishment of shooter drills, zero tolerance policies, and school-to-prison pipeline. Those underprivileged kids are also struggling with underfunded schools and heavy metal toxins in their communities, from old buildings, aging infrastructure, and toxic dumps. And as mass urbanization rolls on, psychosis and dementia are increasing among young adults as is suicide, including suicidality among children.

      This is happening as inequality is growing larger. The disparities is felt in every area of life, especially for children. And the high inequality creates a toxic atmosphere of anxiety, fear, and aggression. It’s totalizing class war and even harms wealthier kids who are told they must succeed or suffer horrible consequences, turning them into well-educated sheep and cogs in the machine that grinds everyone down. Social Darwinism is getting worse and worse with only the upper echelons of the elite able to escape the consequences with inherited wealth and privilege, with private schools and Ivy League legacies. But even for the elite, rates of stress-related diseases, addiction, and suicide are higher, as compared to low inequality societies.

      With all of this hanging over the heads of an entire generation, there is a permanent debt that can never be paid without the economy collapsing. Even a basic sense of survival doesn’t feel guaranteed, not only in the loss of good jobs with good benefits. The very biosphere is being permanently damaged and we’re in the middle of a mass extinction. World War III is ever more likely, if not collapse of the American Empire and Western Civilization. Kids look to adults and see that most of them seem not to care or notice what is going on. The stress of it all is unimaginable to the older generations that grew up when the economy was booming, the social safety net was strong, the middle class was growing, and the whole country was optimistic.

      Holy fuck! What are we doing to these kids? How can this experiment end well? Even the Nazis never came up with an experiment this demented. It’s like we’re trying to find out the furthest extreme of dysfunctionality before society falls apart. The Nazis, in their own way, were utopians that sought to build a great society and promote progress. But in the American Empire, it’s as if we’ve instead embraced dystopia with grim cynicism and fatalism. We barely pretend anymore that we have any plans to deal with the problems we face. The plutocrats are just going full steam ahead to see how much wealth they can suck out of the system, as the population descends into misery and madness.

      • Well a sober assessment points to the likely idea that we are fucked.

        Mass culture is a disaster. There are examples everywhere – education, tech, the environment and so on.

        My current hunch is that the new pandemic will offer an opportunity to change things – with poverty and the economic structure (which attaches to everything else) are ripe for transformation.

        But what’s likely is that nothing will change and we will still be fucked.

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