“The Data Age”

Does it not strike you as absurd
that we have generated more data
in the last decade than ever before,
this new Human Recording Project
where the privileged document life
in a supposedly global village so that
we can all express an opinion about
Gaza or the Ukraine or MH370 or
whatever captures our limited attention
with images graphic enough to demand
a status update or even a whole blog post
if we feel, like, strongly about human rights
and how they’re violated every day by some
other band of baddies beyond our borders.

A few think they can make a difference
with their words and armchair activism
while others think they can prove that
their world is already different through
#100happydays and filtered photos of
postcard places that they’ve travelled to
where the sea is always more blue and
the unfamiliar food tastes so much better.
I want neither. I cannot change the world;
less than a third understand my words
and they make little difference anyway
in a world saturated with too much truth
and a growing dump of useless data about
lunch and cats and America’s next top model.

And though I’ve travelled to many places
where the sea was definitely more blue,
I learnt just two things: do more, expect less.
I met many people far more lost than me
and realised that we all either go to war
or destroy ourselves with other battles
raged in lonely places far from the shiny
walls of facebook with all the photos of
a life not quite realised, not quite real.
We’re buried alive beneath the virtual
rubbish of a generation always online,
plugged in only so we can tune out,
connected only so we can forget
what it’s like to have a real conversation.

And I know it’s fashionable to dismiss
the move to a technologised future
even though it’s really inevitable and
that we have to make it work rather
than criticising the fake constructions,
but I want you to know this future means
the recording of suffering on a grand scale,
that inescapable truth of existence in a
world where life must feed on life just to
slow the unstoppable march of death.
We are doomed to observe a hundred
more Gaza’s before the next age dawns
bringing with it its own forms of suffering
and its own small, surprising joys.

The secret, revealed to all who ask,
is in those surprising moments of joy,
like watching a groom meet his beautiful
bride-to-be in the airport last night with
flowers and ululations and a camera crew.
Even though the cellphones annoy me,
the welcome kiss and calls of happiness
are what make life a little less absurd,
if only for a moment, as I wait between
the arrival and departure terminals
of a tiny airport where men in suits
mix with dirty farmers in khaki shorts,
waiting for the automatic doors to open
so that life can come streaming out.

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