I've been thinking lately about two separate ideas, and though seemingly different I think they are closely related. First is the idea of the "Lost Generation". Though the phrase has come to designate the generation coming of age around the time of WWI, I think it's an extremely flexible concept. I think my generation is very much a "Lost Generation". We don't have the structure of WWII and the G.I. Bill and the old-school small-world connectedness of two generations ago. We don't have the hometown rebellion turned corporate assimilation and falling in line to raise families and to carry on the values of the prior generation like my parents. Our inheritance, and our world, seems to be one of drifting lostness. We'd like to have the resolve of our grandparents and the WWII generation, but we don't have the structure or the practice in sacrifice that they do. In many ways their world is totally foreign to us. And we'd like to have the attitude of our parents, of homestead building and intensely laboring so our children have better lives than they did, but our world is even different from our parents'. We're just not settling like they did; we're restless, listless, throwing ourselves into jobs and commitments only half-heartedly, always keeping our options open. But the most interesting point to all of this is that at least the original "Lost Generation" had the sense to self-identify as lost. We're too busy and too caffeinated and too distracted to even make such a declaration.
The second thought is the concept of "The Ghost in the Machine". The two thinkers who developed this concept, Gilbert Ryle, and his later critic Arthur Koestler, suggest a certain critique of Descartes' mind/body dualism and a proposal for an architecture of the brain that tends toward self-destruction. This "Ghost in the Machine" idea has also been applied to computers and the possibility of Artificial Intelligence becoming sentient (Think "I,Robot"). It seems to me that to a certain extent we ourselves have become the ghosts in the machine. Speaking for myself and many others I know, I spend so much time online and on my computer that to a certain extent it is an extension of my own intelligence. I rely on my computer as an external memory bank and as a primary means of interacting with the world. I'm wondering to what extent this is a self-destructive tendency - a form of "lostness", a disconnecting of the conscious self from the physical self with perhaps subconscious autocidal tendencies. I'm just not really sure where to draw the line between myself and my computer. I'm sure if it suddenly died I would panic as though a part of myself died. Perhaps I'm being overly dramatic, but how many people feel bitter remorse when they lose a cell phone or their computer crashes? I don't think I'm alone in this.
I think one possible connection between these two ideas is that we don't know what to do with our "lostness," and so we invent and perpetuate electronic forms of existence in which our lostness comes to make sense. This explains the utterly impersonal nature of computers (they are just electronic machines after all) and the intensely personal nature of our online virtual lives (facebook, twitter, blogging!). We need to quarantine our lostness before it infects us and drives us mad, and our computers are a great place to do that. Any thoughts on these phenomena? Does this resonate with you?