In the early 1990s, my generation could be found sitting in elementary school classrooms with wide eyes and open minds listening to our teachers discuss the problems of drug abuse, HIV and cancer and the lack of cures, acid rain, recycling and general pollution. Global warming had not yet become a hot topic, and some of the positive, trendy ones such as the successful launch of the Hubble space telescope overshadowed the importance of others, at least in my opinion.
Of course, we listened and changed. As we grew and began to take jobs in industry and the corporate world, our mentality caused a shift in the general dynamic of the workforce. Personally, I was met with resistance in regard to operating under idealistic best practices. Many processes are encumbered by excessive caution and there were older employees that just didn’t care enough to change. This wasn’t surprising, as the technological age has come on faster than people were able to adapt. Now, in the middle of a consumerist, high throughput technological explosion, I see the concept of pollution taking on a whole new meaning.
In the 90s, pollution was in the air and the rain and in the streets and forests. The part that little me could control was litter. I remember feeling very strongly that littering was wrong and I still pick up stray pieces of garbage when I see them. I certainly do not throw my trash nonchalantly into the wind. Or maybe I do. Today, I find myself surrounded by a mass of information, mountains of gadgets and accessories, and I’m overwhelmed by the amount of unnecessary visual stimuli I encounter, much of which I’d rather never see. And then there is all the ambient noise. Computer fans, cell phone tones and notifications, automobile engines and sirens, and people talking in public, seemingly to themselves. This blog, perhaps? I hope not. It’s meant to entertain and stimulate thoughtfulness, but for many it will just be information pollution.
I don’t want to beat a dead horse or preach too long on this topic but I think it is beneficial to remember the values behind our reasoning. Littering was wrong (to me) because a bird, turtle, or fish would end up dead on the beach with a plastic ring around its neck. I didn’t want that. I think the potential consequences for digital, visual, and noise pollution have the potential for consequences far worse, affecting humanity directly.
Digital pollution does not have to be seen in order to be damaging. Virtual space is still space that requires a physical foundation. Many of those physical stores (like cell phones and memory cards) are consumed so rapidly that they hardly fullfil the cost of production with actual value, especially as certain rare resource stores continue to dwindle, such as the metals used for batteries. Other digital waste comes in the form of online photos, pornographic or offensive material, and malicious or highly bugged software. Some of this can’t be controlled, but is being monitored and handled. Instagram has become a tar pit of socially offensive yet legal media. Some of it I wish I never had to see, but there it is.
Visual pollution is everywhere.
Visual pollution is not limited to pictures or flyers taped to phone poles, or billboards and web ads. It can be offensive t-shirts, graffiti, inappropriately placed advertisements, or racist propaganda. Noise pollution follows the same logic, and I don’t feel the need to identify all of it. But it’s in music, radio, can be heard on the bus, at the beach, or in your church. My point is that we’re already seeing the consequences of environmental pollution, in the post industrial age, despite our efforts to avoid it, and the next to come will be the consequences of digital and visual, social pollution. If our youth, and you, do not see the problem of general pollution for the reality that it is, then there is no way to divert the stream of negative effects rushing toward us. I understand the concepts of anti censorship and free speech (and freedom in general), but a line needs to be drawn somewhere. Freedom does not permit littering.
Pictured above is a scene I would like to preserve, from an environmental standpoint. The reality is this type of beauty is being threatened and, in the midst of the technological boom, we have grown accustomed to living in our own filth. As time has progressed, we’ve decided that less restrictions be put on what can be thrown out the window while we drive through each other’s neighborhoods. This is a call to consider the impact and importance of what we present to the world. It is also a reminder that physical pollution is still a problem. Be considerate, be bold, and put your best on display, and stay conscientious.