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The Illusion of Control

This excerpt from chapter 6 addresses the effects that modern technology has had on how we experience (or don’t experience) life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

     The illusion of control vanished as people across Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland feared for their lives. There was at least one sniper on the loose, randomly shooting individuals in shopping center parking lots and gas stations. As panic settled over the Washington metropolitan area, people began to look over their shoulders as they loaded groceries and pumped gas into their cars, hoping, praying, that they would not be next.

     After three weeks of terror, on October 24, 2002, two perpetrators were apprehended at a rest stop off an interstate highway. The ordeal had finally come to an end but tragically not before ten people had been killed and three others seriously wounded by the Beltway snipers.

     Horrific stories like this one are disturbing. Somewhere deep within our beings, maybe in our souls, we feel a most unsettling angst—one that tends to linger. Death can have this effect on us, particularly in situations where it could have been avoided, or in this case when it is a random, senseless act of violence. It just feels wrong.

     Beyond the tragic loss of life, there’s something else about an event like this that disturbs us—the jarring realization that we’re not in control of our lives as much as we’d like to think. The idea that I could be shot while loading groceries into my car reminds me that I do not sustain my own life. Sure, we can avoid dangerous situations and take meticulous care of our bodies, but ultimately we’re not in control. There are countless internal and external variables that could end our lives in an instant. A blood vessel could burst in my brain as I type these words and there would be nothing I could do about it; a drunk driver could hit me head-on before I have a second to react; a tidal wave could wash over my family as we stand helplessly on the beach; and a giant asteroid could be hurling toward Earth, and the only thing we could do would be to count down the seconds until impact. We are at the mercy of the world around us, and we need our bodies to perform countless involuntary functions to keep us alive. That’s part of why hearing a story about madmen randomly shooting people is so troublesome; it’s a shocking reminder that life is fragile and that we do not have ultimate control over our lives. Death, without warning, can visit any one of us at any time.

     However, in twenty-first-century America, we live with the illusion that we’re in control of our lives. Most mornings when we get out of bed, we expect to return to our pillows that evening. The average American has no reason to think otherwise, and so understandably we assume each day we’ll live for yet another day.

     We’re able to live with this illusion of control because technology has helped us mitigate the curses. Most Americans don’t have to fight off wild animals. Thanks to gunpowder, pesticides, vaccines, and other modern developments, we’ve regained control over much of the animal world. As for our struggle with the ground, irrigation techniques, genetic engineering of plants, modern machinery, and advancements in weather forecasting and seismology have helped us manage and even at times control our groaning planet. We’ve mitigated the curses to a greater degree than any other people in human history, and as technology continues to progress, so will our illusion of control.

     …Technology feeds the illusion of control so much so that it is easy for us to think that we don’t need God, that we can sustain ourselves, and that we can tame our groaning planet. As a result, we’re consumed with self-preservation. Instead of focusing on today, we worry about tomorrow. Instead of being content with what we have, we search for what we think we need.

     As we pursue self-preservation, life is passing us by. We want to believe that “there’s always tomorrow,” which is why death, particularly the unexpected death of a loved one, leaves us questioning how we spend our time today. In mitigating the curses, we seem to be losing sight of what really matters—life together.…

     As technology continues to advance in the twenty-first century, offering us more and more control over the curses, who or what will we trust to sustain our lives? Will we spend more time pursuing the illusion of control? Will we commit more energy to preserving our own existence? Will we become more adept at playing the blame game? Or will we become more grateful for what we have, take more responsibility for our actions, and regain perspective on what really matters in life?

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About Leon Hayduchok


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