Imagine this. It is one morning of April 2019, a couple of weeks before he asks what is to be the world’s most overlooked questions.
Leonardo wakes up to find seven likes and an emoji comment on his Mona Lisa painting online. He wonders his way to the bathroom and realises he needs a hair cut. Something has been keeping him up late at night and it is about time he tells his therapist. He decides to work remotely from his apartment in the heart of Florence, rumoured to be where The Last Supper is soon to be born. For a long while Leonardo has been working as an artist and has now ventured into design as most. His calling started a few days ago at around midnight when he woke up and decided that humanity was lacking something.
Imagine this, says Leonardo. We have went to the moon. We have obsessed over theory of relativity. We have invented the internet, the world wide web, and social media. We bank and shop and vote and date online. All taking part in contributing towards a common goal: to push the human race forward. But what about all of us, Leonardo asks his therapist. What about the very people who make or experience such wonders in the world? How are we really doing on a human level? How are we feeling? The therapist leans forward and bulges her eyes. She then suggests that Leonardo tell her more.
Human interaction has evolved from two strangers having a face-to-face conversation with one another in the park or bus or train, he continues. Today these strangers in a similar setting can interact simultaneously with more than five people from all around the world just by a tap on their devices. How amazing is that! But before we get carried away, might it be that we have a hard time to start a real-time conversation? Are we much likely to be strangers in person and more attached to one another online? Are we more social online than in real life, spending what could’ve been our creative time of our life accepting cookies on screen? Maybe I’m old school but I hope you realise this too.
You don’t need to say anything, Leonardo says to the therapist. I also have a lots of questions within as you might do, he continues. I can’t count how many book clubs I went to, and books and blog posts I’ve read by this account. The golden age of beautiful human interaction might be quickly fading away. Poof! Like dry white flour blown from the baker’s palm.
Let’s interrupt Leonardo for a moment. In fact, let’s track back in time. It is said that about seven million years ago the human lineage broke away from that of the last common ancestors, the chimpanzee. Both genus pan (chimpanzee) and genus homo (human) emerged from Hominis and diverged into different clades of new species. The pan went its way and the homo went its way. There are many other species before Hominis from some 30 million years ago. From homo going forward, several new species emerged, diverging into new clades and becoming extinct along the way, making the last remaining species to be Homo Sapiens (modern humans). That’s us.
What might have happened along the way? Before Homo Sapiens? The curiosity and complexity of this leaves me singling out Homo Ergaster aka Workman who happened around almost 2 million years ago. Said to be the first of Hominis species to harness fire and be organisational, societally driven, and famed for its lithic technological advancement with sophisticated stone tools. Fire was a great deal. Today it is as natural to us as spoken language which might have came about after the harnesing of fire—we don’t know. Some of us can’t imagine it being a specie’s ambition to harness fire.
Homo Ergaster is also said to have larger braincase and smaller face and teeth than its predecessor. That’s evolution—but that’s a large topic for another time. Anyways, scientists continue to ask themselves a string of questions of which some are said to be unanswered. How do other species relate to homo sapiens; what was their diet like; what kinds of tools did the species make and use; what language did they speak; when did spoken language come about; how did the species express themselves; how did they interact with one another; how were relationships like?
This is getting punchy and quick because I want to get to my sandwich. And oh, heads up! I choose to write only for myself as a way of thinking and rethinking. It’s your responsibility to craft your own argument with what I share. You owe that responsibility to yourself if anyone. Moving on. Humans have long invented tools or systems that help us express and interact with one another. We keep on reinventing. An interaction that one has today is much different from how our ancestors interacted a million years ago, and five hundred years ago, and it is evolving.
Imagine a thousand years from now, two lovers, each standing miles apart from one another. One in a village of Taung, another in the city of Berlin. Or to think freely and beyond, imagine one lover on planet Earth and the other on red soil on Mars. Imagine them interacting virtually with each other. Then consider the five senses. Then imagine them touching and feeling one another, in unison. Imagine them smelling and tasting each other’s food. I skip seeing and hearing senses because our current technology gracefully allows us to do this virtually. It has changed the way we live and interact every day.
But for Leonardo, why is the golden age of beautiful human interaction quickly fading away? I believe that each interaction feels natural and beautiful for generation of its time. My senses keep me humble and nodding to myself that we are reluctant to change. At times it gets uncomfortable when we come across change. We get frustrated—like our friend Leonardo. Because to us change might signify a threat of taking away the things we are used to. The things that are comfortable and efficient to us. But the funniest thing is that change happens all the time.
It fosters innovation or the worst. Think of all those musicians who are out of the game because they were reluctant to change according to current time. Because they wanted to make what they believe is real music unlike today’s. Then take pause. Think of those individuals and organisations who realised a challenge by change and took it as an opportunity to risk, explore, embrace and make something out of it. The number is uncountable for both. So, as a generation, instead of clenching our fists to fierce resistance, all we may need is to open our fists and let acceptance take its course, and use technology to interact in the most meaningful way. That is beautiful.