It was Earth Day on 23 April, as Google Calendar reminded those who looked, so here’s a little story about Earth, the Blue Planet, the real world.
Whether the young man making his way home through the front gate belonged to Gen Y or Z, or was a millennial, was of no consequence to this Gen X-er.
What mattered was the question he shot back at the announcement that a trip to Mozambique had been upcoming.
The young man is one of several in our orbit. He enjoys thinking, philosophy – that’s his thing. He likes to talk, deep. Ish.
His startled expression at the announcement made it clear that the fellow earthling had no clue where in the world Mozambique was.
Here he was, in the prime of his life, standing on the southern tip of Africa and he had no conceptual grasp of the continent, which countries border us, to say nothing of their histories and how these are intertwined with ours. Or where he actually physically found himself. Terra firma.
There was no spacial recognition, so to speak.
Our friend at the gate does not lack intelligence. On the contrary, a sudden dawning that the 1.4kg mass in his skull needs some velcro inside for him to progress has arrived.
Fighting disillusionment, depression, an inclination to rebellion, he’s giving it a go.
Thing is, information, knowledge, stored in your own cloud, the one inside your head, where no one can access it – apart from possible senility and dementia much further down the road – is a much safer bet than storing it on a server outside where you forget about it.
A bit like the two imbeciles, one Irish, the other Scottish, who are the subject of the Netflix documentary series High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule.
Known collectively as the “Peru Two” in the northern hemisphere, down south we have our own dramas, in case you missed their “famous” grift.
Two less-informed and uneducated bipeds you will not come across. Both seemed unmoored from reality with no internal map and certainly no WiFi connection. In an attempt not to humiliate them any further – with the hope that they will open the portals of their minds to the possibility that lies within – we leave them nameless.
In 2013, the 20-year-old Irish lass heads off to Ibiza, the Spanish island resort, essentially to shed more of her clearly unwanted brains, chugging down a cocktail of alcohol and drugs and having numb sex with chatty strangers. Like a babe in the woods she soon lands a job as a “hostess” in a bar.
An excessively handsome stranger is drawn to her. Does not take long. This one is Bambi caught in the headlights.
Romeo takes her out dancing and romancing. She’s snorting cocaine off tables and toilet tops, slamming tequilas down her gullet, shutting down the remaining regions of her brain capable of what passes for reason.
Next thing she’s on an aeroplane to Peru to pick up 11kg of cocaine. No idea how this happened, she tells the camera.
There she meets the Scot who seems equally unprimed for life – two baby adults in the clutches of a deadly, armed cartel that seems to have set them up as a decoy. Did we mention they did it for the money? They thought it would be, like, you know, easy.
So ridiculous was their attempt at smuggling that Peruvian officials burst out laughing.
Our Irish foetus had never in her unidimensional life heard of South America, never mind Peru. She had only really heard about Ibiza. Maybe London. That was her geographical and intellectual horizon.
Where are the adults actually?
It took seven years in a hardcore women’s prison where no one spoke English (surprise, surprise), and with no apparent survival instinct left, for it to finally dawn on the Irish mule that she needed to fill her head. Her naturally installed microprocessor.
She cranked up the grey cells, learnt to speak Spanish and about Peru, its traditions, customs, politics. On arrival she can be seen peering out of the window of the cop van as if she had landed on Neptune.
A common denominator in the two disparate tales told here is the apparent lack of adult guidance along the path of life and, in the case of the Irish child-woman, access to what would vaguely pass for an education.
It’s a global problem as elites steal tax money and hive it away offshore in Amsterdam, Dubai and Hong Kong, to be laundered later in Monaco and Nkandla. A generation of parents, too, have been lost to their own devices.
The young friend at the gate asked in which direction Mozambique lay in relation to Cape Town and South Africa, his home. For a moment the cogs in his curious mind flared to life as he gazed up at the sky, hopefully imagining himself as a speck, a tiny collection of gasses and molecules, with a brain, wrapped in a skin, standing on the Earth in a grand cosmos.
Not all catastrophe
One should take tepid comfort from the fact that few 20-year-olds have ever listened to the adults, unless under duress or in a soldier’s uniform.
A common complaint in our 21st-century garden is how few adults actually listen to 20-year-olds. Just ask Greta.
The education many of us received in 1970s South Africa, unless you were breathing the thin air of a private school, proved essentially useless. I speak for some of us, naturally.
Christian National Education was an intellectually blunt instrument. What happened afterwards is what mattered, the stuff in the real world. We can say that from this distance down the road.
Will resultant generations be shortsighted or even blinded, their eyeballs sucked in so far by the internet that the myopia will be incurable, the vacuum inside unfillable?
The world that is real and dangerous to many of the young (and adults, but we leave them to their own devices) is a largely liminal one. It doesn’t exist, yet it directs their thoughts and desires. A bit like a bad religion.
But. And there is always a but around here. The same liminal space offers many freedoms. It depends on whether you can outthink the algorithm or ignore it (unless you are in marketing). It all depends on whether you can activate your own free supercomputer located somewhere behind your eyes, well beyond the thrall of artificial intelligence and state and commercial monitoring. Your choice. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.