Technology doesn’t make the person

By Parker Happ

The Moken are among the last least touched by civilization. Living at sea for up to half the year, they are a 10,000-year-old society of people living in a 21st century world.

In their culture, lessons are learned through an oral tradition that chiefly honors ancestors and the sea. Could we be closer to the Moken than we think? Could we learn something from them?

Civilization has partially infiltrated, however, and Moken now stock up on Coke, Ramen and ready-to-eat snacks. Contradicting their sea-reliant, nomadic roots, the Moken have “let themselves go” per say. Sadly, children report experiencing cavities for the first time. Their ancestors never warned of impending doom from high fructose corn syrup. Biologically, nothing significantly differs between our bodies and theirs.

Environmentally, differences between the Moken and you certainly are libraries and bus rides to class everyday. But do you ever go to the library and actually pick out a book to read? I was there yesterday choosing one at random. 2002 was the last time it left shelves. Instead of talking on your phone or listening to music, do you ever just ride the bus? Of course not. Technology isolates us and shuts out the immediate world. Despite increased access to information and knowledge everywhere, that discovery depends entirely on us actually taking initiative to find it.

In Thailand on Dec. 26, 2004, the Moken rested ashore for season. Suddenly, an eerie silence spread over the usually noisy jungle; the cicadas stopped chirping. As the coastline grew and exposed previously submerged sea life, the Moken knew of something tremendous coming. They fled to higher ground. Reported by the U.S. Geological Survey, in 2004, 275,000 people perished from the Indonesian earthquake and tsunami. The Sea Gypsies knew of an impending disaster by talking to each other and sharing their history together. The day the cicadas stopped, not a single Moken perished.

The islander oral tradition spoke of a man-eating wave called the “laboon.” Brought on by the angry spirits of the ancestors, the wave strikes when beaches are not cared for. You don’t need technology as the Moken didn’t need a scientist to tell them when the tsunami was coming. Unfortunately, we hear constantly how “this significantly smaller technological devise is going to change your life,” then an audience erupts in applause. Living a nomadic, apolitical life separate from the pace we are so used to every day. In their language the Moken have no word for “want” because all they have ever needed has been available to take from the sea. We should think like the Moken, stop wanting what we don’t see and see what we already have. Despite access and availability, technology – be it commercially manufactured snacks or an iPhone – does not change you.