Do you have the feeling that time is not enough for you? Do you feel like a fire extinguisher that must continually face unforeseen and supposed urgencies? Are you not able to glimpse your future? Do you think that almost everything is invented and that there is very little left to do? Do you think that no future time can overcome the present and that we have reached the top of our capabilities?
If so, you are likely to suffer a phenomenon as common as unknown: the “Present Shock.” Due to the completely new relationship we have developed over time – on a social and personal level – we are living in a now that escapes us faster while we lose connection with the future and the past.
What is the Present Shock?
The presente shock is an idea developed by Douglas Rushkoff, a professor at the University of New York. He describes it as a potentially burdensome and even paralyzing mental state in which we get stuck in the present, losing many of the connection points with the future and the past.
The present shock, however, does not lead us to a Zen state, but rather dips us in a kind of mental chaos. “It makes us exist in a distracted present in which the peripheral forces are magnified […] Our ability to make a plan and follow it is interrupted by a large number of external impacts. Instead of finding a stable path here and now, we end up reacting improvisedly to all the assaults that occur throughout the day”, Rushkoff said.
However, the shock of the present does not depend solely on technology – although it has contributed – but rather it is a state that has been established at the social level and ended up penetrating many of us. It is a way of dealing with reality assuming an approach so presentist that it ends up being myopic.
“Our society has been redirected to the present. Everything is shown live, in real time, and is always connected. It is not simply an acceleration of things, no matter how much our lifestyle and technologies have accelerated at the rate at which we try to do things. It is rather a decrease in everything that is not happening now – and the furious onslaught of everything that is supposedly happening”, Rushkoff explained.
The psychological consequences of the Present Shock
Rushkoff refers to the different ways in which the present shock is manifested in our lives. Once established, this phenomenon not only changes our habits and behaviors, but also dangerously alters the dynamics of our thinking.
• Narrative Collapse
This is the triumph of immediacy over precision, a phenomenon that is perfectly visible in the news sections of the media, but which has also spread to different levels and leads us to make numerous mistakes and inaccuracies in our day to day. It is the triumph of the approximation over accuracy.
In fact, that narrative collapse is the coup de grace for intelligent and complex speeches since we are not able to follow their logic or simply do not have enough time to reflect on it. Instead, we prioritize simplistic solutions, which leads to a brutal loss of wealth and complexity that carachterize all the phenomena to which we are exposed.
The technology that allows us to be in different places at the same time and helps us to assume different identities has driven the digiphrenia, which consists of a confused mental state caused by having too many identities running in parallel.
These identities are often disconnected from each other, so we make a huge daily effort to remove one skin and enter another. That continuous change of identity puts us under great stress with unhealthy consequences.
This is the tendency to seek a meaning in a frozen present, without taking into account the logical sequences of cause and effect. This phenomenon is due in large part to the large amount of information to which we are exposed and the need to respond instantaneously, so that we do not have time to track the plot over time or develop a thoughtful response that is projected to the future.
However, when there is no linear time, when we lose the connection with the past and the future, it is impossible for us to make sense of what is happening to us, so that the causes and effects collapse. So we stay in a chaotic world, in which we have no choice but to respond blindly.
Since society has lost faith in its ability to solve global crises and problems because it is unable to find a head and tail to the situation we live in, our desire to get out of this presentist maze makes us fantasize about apocalyptic endings. In this way, many people find it easier to imagine an apocalypse of epic proportions than what we will do next month or year.
The present shock, therefore, unleashes a deeply catastrophic thought that envelops us in pessimism and leads us to imagine the worst tragedies around the corner. Immersed in a state of learned helplessness, without understanding how we have reached this point and without knowing how to get out assertively, we have nothing left but to fantasize about alarmist endings.
In this way, we end up being people who react to what happens, without reflecting too much on its causes because we do not want to look at the past, and without stopping to think about the consequences of our actions, because we do not have time to project ourselves into the future.
Due to the present shock, each reaction becomes a black hole of unwanted possibilities and consequences. Thus we end up being suggestible and manipulable pieces that move according to how the winds of presentism blow, forgetting that we must be the captains of our life, that we must be the wind and not the flag.
Rushkoff, D. (2013) Present shock. Nueva York: Penguin Group.