To argue against the fact that our lives have become increasingly over-stimulated would be a moot point. The immense amount of information we “download” into our brains each day has exponentially increased in the last decade due to the rapid advancement of technology. It allows us to find information faster, distribute data further, and simultaneously disperse news across numerous media genres. Everywhere we go there are advertisements, quotes, vividly flashing videos and a relentless barrage of noise. Now we find ourselves at the crossroads of a very sticky human dilemma. The reality of the physical world is slipping further and further into screen-based technology. Whether it be a computer, cell-phone, iPod, or any other miscellaneous tablet device we are losing ourselves into a realm of superfluous knowledge. As technology continues to advance our relentless appetite for material is destroying our ability to retain information, not to mention the moral fabric of society.
As I hammer away at my keyboard, deep in the laid of the Man, my brain is bombarded with visual and auditory stimuli. Music playing through my headphones (Lana Del Rey – National Anthem for those who care), emails flying in and dozens of spreadsheets chock-full of data that would make most minds frazzled. All of this comes through a screen and my eyes are charged with the task relaying it to my brain so it can be processed into usable information. In an article published on RawStory.com Stephen Webster writes, “IBM Researchers have estimated that a single human brain can process 36.8 petaflops of data.” (1 petaflop = 1 quadrillion calculations per second) That number is awfully impressive when you consider that, “the combined processing power of the 500 most powerful supercomputers has grown to 123.4 petaflops.” The amount of information necessary to determine such processing speeds is astounding, and never before in history have we had this much material to organize and sift through. The world is both producing and consuming data faster than any generation before and we must come to face the facts, our brains are full of spam.
Is your brain spam?
To put things into perspective, I spend almost 16 hours a day looking directly at a screen. Part of this is by choice, but most of it is by necessity either by working for the Man or producing these articles for my beloved readers at Can the Man. Granted not every man, woman, and child on this planet is over-encumbered by technology, and I relish those few privy to such privacy. I cannot escape and there are plenty of days that I wish my brain could shut off and not be barraged with the hectic task of processing stimuli. Every second my brain is working to sift through the spam, but to make it in this mad world I reach out for every scrap I can get. This is part of the unconscious reliance we have with technology and the more of our lives that we invest into it, the more our lives depend on it. The relationship between information and user will always be individualized because how can anyone dictate would should be meaningful? It is up to you, and you alone, to decipher what is truly important to your life—and by coming to Can the Man you’re already a step ahead of the rest.
 Webster, Stephen. “Earth’s supercomputing power surpasses human brain three times over.“ 18, June, 2012. <http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/06/18/earths-supercomputing-power-surpasses-human-brain-three-times-over/>
One side effect of war that few civilians contemplate is how the military disposes of the waste created during foreign conflicts. What waste you might say? Things like human refuse, plastics, unusable machine parts, batteries, and any miscellaneous auto fluid you can think of. Since the first boots were on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan the military’s primary procedure for disposal has been “burn pits.” These pits are nothing more than a jet-fuel enhanced trash fire that spews toxic chemicals and thick black smoke into the air. Although numerous operations, including the most notorious Balad Burn Pit in Iraq, have been shut down in recent years the lifelong detriments of being near these infernos are rising in American soldiers. It seems as though our natural inclination as human beings would be to stay as far away from the putrid pits as possible but to the United States Government, this is not abundantly clear.
The consequences of war have never been easy of soldiers, as Plato once wrote, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” One of the first examples of unfortunate circumstance is the usage of Mustard Gas and other chemical agents during the trench-laden battles of World War I. Or perhaps we can look at the devastating consequences of Agent Orange during the Vietnam war, where many soldiers returned from conflict with things like severe personality disorders and cancer. Even today we’re seeing soldiers return from the war theaters of the Middle East with damaging and sometime life-altering psychological conditions. Now, as we hope to return all soldiers from Afghanistan by 2014, doctors and physicians are seeing a notable spike in respiratory illness amongst veterans who served time near a burn pit. One symptom of exposure is being referred to as “Iraqi Crud” or simply “The Black Goop” which causes the afflicted to cough up black phlegm. Nora Eisenberg lists the symptoms of, “Chronic bronchitis, asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs, and allergy-like symptoms,” in her 2009 article Burning Toxic Waste, etc. It should go without saying that the United States Government has issued a statement to refute such claims in attempts to cover up blatant disregard for military personnel health.
Dr. Michael Kirkpatrick, speaking on behalf of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, offered his response to the claims, “The bottom-line on all of this sampling is that we have not identified anything, where there are troops, where it [The Balad Burn Pit] would have been hazardous to their health.” This leads me to wonder, how on earth could breathing in the fumes from burning trash, NOT, be detrimental to health? Any reasonable person should assume that these counter statements are based upon falsified research. Of the 500 or so veterans who have come forward claiming negligence, many have targeted the construction giants KBR and Halliburton, firms responsible for running the burn pits. The lawsuit claims, “That Halliburton and KBR received approximately five billion dollars per year in exchange for promising to provide contractually defined services.” In a curios twist however, Newsweek published a study of “The Greenest Companies” in which they listed KBR as #4 of 43 supposed green companies, and 101st overall. What is truly disturbing here is the 4.2% disclosure rate KBR received in the same study, as per Newsweek, the disclosure rate is defined as, “Evaluation of a company’s environmental reporting and involvement in key transparency initiatives like the Carbon Disclosure Project.” So the same company ranked as a green company is also involved in a lawsuit which proposes KBR is responsible for causing veterans to cough up black mucus.
American soldiers have been at the front lines of multiple important conflicts in history and we have always known that the transition back to home life has not always been smooth. Now as we uncover more blatant negligence at the hands of those we implicitly trust to be morally responsible, soldiers are coming home with new illnesses that have yet to be adequately examined within the medical community. The Balad Burn Pit represents the true chaos of war ravaged countries and uncovering this information has undermined the level of secrecy used to obscure the truth from American people. There are no clear solutions—but it is obvious that greedy men in tailored suits are covering up a gross negligence for human well-being to maintain their positions on top of the pyramid.
Beee-Booo sings the elevator as slows to a halt. The crackling speaker repeats the song as I enter, selecting the fifth floor, watching the door slide shut.
Beee-Booo, “Floor Five,” the automated female voice coos, and the door slides open.
Much like a zoo animal released into their enclosure, I exit, to spend another day caged and contained within the confines of life. Human beings have craved comfort and the sense of security since the first flickers of flame warmed our ancient ancestors. Albeit much has changed in the millennia since cavemen, and the ideas of security and comfort have evolved dramatically. We feel safe believing in the promises of physical and financial safety, as well as trusting the idea that we are all guaranteed the chance at a long healthy life. In reality such promises are fictional, because we have learned that death often strikes without notice. A large portion of society will come to obtain, or follow, these creature comforts, whereas a growing percentage of the population will not.
I don’t wear an orange jumpsuit to work and my laptop isn’t shackled to my wrist. There are no armed guards ensuring I maintain an appropriate level of gaudy enthusiasm on the phone and I can usually leave at my discretion. There are no showers, and the threat of being shanked in the chow hall is minimal. That being said there are some very tangible similarities between my office job and being in prison. The entire grounds are encircled by a large fence pricked with barbed wire. To gain entry, employees must display two separate forms of appropriate identification, one of which must be worn the entire time you are on the premises. Every employee is given a number to identify themselves by, mine is 502-149-129 and I can type it faster than you can blink. Elevators, offices, and cubicles are all designed to physically contain human beings. What people sometimes fail to recognize is how that very same containment translates to the mental realm as well. Our bodies can acknowledge physical barriers through sensory perception, but our mental capacity lacks when it comes to observing the confines of society. Why do I recognize this—and why do so many others fail to?
I have been employed by this company for two full months now and it has altered my perception of the world drastically. As Tyler Durden, from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, would say, “The things you own, end up owning you.” We have jobs so we can buy things, so we can build a sense of comfort through possessing “stuff.” From my limited experience I cannot tell who has caved to this society, or who still shows semblances of rage against it. What I do know is that I have no grand vision for my own personal security or comfort, not to mention a future. At this moment in time I feel trapped, caged like a beast, within the closing jaws of a materialistic society I hardly understand—and the worst part is I don’t know if I want to.
5 days a week. 5 cups of coffee. 5 hours of sleep. 5 A.M.
This is how the Anti-Man goes to work.
I was recently hired as a “Collections Specialist” for a well-know, worldwide corporate powerhouse. Every day I spend slumped over my laptop, hunting down missing invoices and unpaid sums. Mind you, these aren’t small balances we’re talking about. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars have gone unpaid and unresolved. Sometimes these payments are a day late, sometimes a year. After five weeks on the job nobody sums up my new career better than Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading, “Numbers, dates, numbers and dates.”
Winter in Western New York is cold and dark. The sun rises late and sets early. I’ve rarely seen that glittering orb during the work week, and it is soul-wrenching. I spend the whole day yawning, itching at dress socks, and adjusting my lumbar support. My job consists primarily of organizing, deleting, color-coding, and reorganizing spreadsheets full of both numbers, and dates. Come early afternoon the sweaty mingled stench of microwaved lunches circulates through the air vents, that constantly blow cold air. After being here for over a month, it is no wonder that the office has continually provided inspiration for television shows and movies alike. It is truly a unique environment, whilst still managing to be completely normal. The constant clack, clack, clacking of keyboards and incessant click, click, clicking of little black mice is more than enough to drive a person mad.
Walking about the grounds of the tobacco-free campus I see plenty of other employees, many much older than me, who have it worse. I am 23-years-young and recently graduated from college with my own office, merely a boy amongst the hardened men and women of the corporate world. No matter when I get to work, there is always someone here earlier, working longer. I wonder if these other employees resent me because I’ve been given more opportunities than they likely had at my age, or if they think I’m a spoiled kid who “lucked out” with a good job.
The truth is, I’m very thankful for this job, even though it is nothing I could imagine doing longer than absolutely necessary. If it weren’t for this job, I’d be drowning in debt with college loan payments and no guaranteed way to support them. I will say that I have a sense of pride and accomplishment, being that my current position was previously filled by two ex-employees in India. People like to say, “Oh the money must be great,” sure, it is. My paychecks are double any of the manual labor jobs I have had in the last six years, but it doesn’t fill the nagging feeling of disliking what I do. Performing collections for this global enterprise is not somewhere I see myself in five years, but for the time being it has opened my eyes to the world—and the crippling nuances that make it work.