‘So this is where it’s all going to end…’
There have been times in my life when I’ve occasionally wanted to talk to God. Naturally these moments were punctuated by sheer terror; like the time my airplane was hurtling towards a near-typhoon landing, or upon realising that I’d left a wallet full of cash in a taxi that’s speeding off into the illuminated night. Pray? Sure, why not.
Realistically though, these random prayers sent skyward have less to do with religion and more to do with casting a Hail Mary towards a seemingly omnipotent, authoritative go-to guy in the sky. Or woman. Or being. Enter the concept of a big being up there…
Certainly the question of where ‘up there’ must be discussed. Do they reside in a luxury condo in the clouds, or perhaps a more modest yet tasteful townhouse? No, let’s elevate to an entirely more ethereal place – a country home complete with horses, dogs and, despite a fringed line of forest trees, an absolute absence of mosquitos.
Hold that thought and imagine being sat, on a blustery Manila afternoon, at the side of the road outside the dreaded Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1. Gusts of wind shake the ageing taxi and my driver Tito motions me to remain in total silence, as we bow our heads and wait for a voice from above.
We eventually set off and, given it is still only 1 pm, I think it will be plain sailing to my hotel in Makati. But as soon as we clear the airport, Tito pulls over and explains that we can’t go any further until we receive the next set of instructions from the voice above.
WTF, I think. Hearing voices is most certainly not a good sign. So this is where it is all going to end; on a roadside in Pasay City with only a corned tuna vendor and the faint glow of a distant Jollibee sign for company? Thankfully as I ready to make a run for my life, the voice broadcasts from above. ‘Above’ in this instance, however, equates to the car headliner where a mounted smartphone is embedded into a foam device. Is this a miracle, or just the devil in disguise? Neither, I discover– it’s a route recommendation from Waze, a real-time community-based traffic app.
Tito explains that he has been absolved from a life spent mired in traffic via a voice that would guide us safely and swiftly to our appointed destination. Call it divine intervention, or a higher calling but the trip is amazingly fast.
My point here – and there is indeed one – is just how far technology has come, while at the same time humans are becoming increasingly helpless. When I was recently sat on the MRT in Singapore, I counted at least 27 heads all bowed in near-religious concentration, staring into their own windows of the world. Smartphones? You bet.
There’s no doubt that the modern age has come with a terrible price to pay – ultimately it’s the great leap backwards. Even dishevelled property developers and real estate investors have lost their pure instinct and become slaves to tech.
My own humanhood has also been challenged in recent months. A few weeks ago, in a late dash to Tokyo’s Narita airport, my English-language GPS suddenly shifted into Japanese, leaving me at the mercy of the city’s notoriously complicated traffic signs. And just a couple of days later I found myself lost in a high-security building, you know the ones that don’t have floor numbers in the lifts.
In a moment of carelessness I ended up getting off on the wrong floor, one level lower than my ultimate destination. Animal instinct kicked in and I searched frantically for the stairway. Rushing into a nearby fire escape I scampered up to the next level, only to be foiled by a locked, soundproof fire door.
After lying helplessly on the floor for some time, I eventually managed to crawl to my knees and shouted out to the heavens in disorderly prayer. Suddenly a man appeared at the fire exit and told me to come inside. I was home again, thanks to the divine presence up there on the 29th floor.