These rules are certainly stricter than mine would be. For me, it was enough to run a few miles up a trail along Little River in Mendocino's Van Damme State Park. The redwoods grew taller as I climbed the gentle slope at a good pace. And when I got to a fork in the road, I stopped and looked around me.
Even out there, without a human around, I could see how precisely humans had constructed this place. It wasn't wild. Most of these areas have been logged in the past. Trails are cut and maintained alongside the river. This place was made for you and me.
But if I closed my eyes, I couldn't hear a person or a car or a plane or anything. I heard my blood. I heard the river right ahead of me. At this time scale, it was steady and calm, identical one moment to the next. Birds sang at different distances and angles. In the quiet, with all my attention focused on my aural experience, I could almost imagine the feats of echolocation that you hear about from time to time, people who navigate their environments by sound alone.
Visually, we are bound to live in the technological world we can see. But if we want to escape that world momentarily—maybe not even for 15 minutes, maybe just for a few seconds—all we have to do is close our eyes sufficiently far away from other humans and infrastructure and listen.
It maybe not be the perfect quiet that Hempton desires, but it is something deeply calming and also nothing special. It is just the world going on, the bones of your ears another point in space, vibrating like all the rest.
And for me, that intersects with a most important thread in technology recently: We're creating a world that seamlessly, effortlessly shapes itself to human desire. It's no longer cutting through a mountain to prove we dominate nature; now, it's satisfying each impulse in the physical world with the ease and speed of digital tools. The shortest way to explain what Uber means: hit a button and something happens in the world (that makes life easier for you).
The CEO of the cloud storage provider Box and technology wit, Aaron Levie, calls it the "convenience economy."
This is not an entirely new situation. Lancaster University's Elizabeth Shove, for example, has tracked how changing notions of convenience and comfort are directly linked to (and radically increase) energy usage. "What assumptions of human ‘need’ are constructed and embedded in the built environment and with what consequences for conventions of ‘normality’ and associated patterns of resource intensity?" Shove and collaborator Heather Chappells ask.
But what should be stunning about the integration of digital technologies into the physical world, especially the wave of artificial intelligence coming to "smart" objects, is that these little conveniences will be normalized. Humans will come to expect the world to conform to their desires.