Friday, November 30, 2007

I Call It "Technovulsion"

So many of my friends are something that there's not a real good term for. I would call it technophobia, except that word has the implication of current technologies. It also has this connotation of ineptitude and foolishness. Maybe that's just my take on it. Regardless, it just doesn't feel right to call them that, when it's not anywhere near being a consensus label.

Our conversations will go something like this:
Them: (some new technology)
Me: Yeah, and in five years it'll either be obsolete or used by everyone
Them: That seems sort of sad.
Me: Why? We'll be able cure most diseases, eliminate scarcity, and upgrade our minds.
Them: But at what cost?
Me: Uh ... I'm not sure what you mean.
Them: If we put things into our head, don't we become less human?
Me: No? Do you become less human because they use pencils?

Of course I know that's a slippery slope; just because we use pencils to enhance our human functionality doesn't mean that augmenting our memory or intellect is automatically okay. If there's a way to convince people that we're more than our bodies, I don't know what it is, short of pulling the mind out of the body. It isn't just messing with the brain that makes them squeamish though; it's the domination of technology. Not the current domination of technology though, the future domination.

This is a theme that runs throughout our culture though, particularly in the sci-fi and action genres. I Robot, Terminator, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and pretty much every zombie movie made - all of them show the horrors of knowing "what man was not meant to know". And those are the explicit ones; there are many more movies, books, and television shows which have more subtle applications of that principle.

I think the atomic bomb is somewhat to blame for this.

The Future Is Now

Why don't we see the marvels of human engineering?

I guess you could ask the same about the natural world, but human engineering has, to me, a sort of immediacy to it, a sense of pride and promise, especially when you look at everything that has yet to come. A quick peek at what life was like 200 years ago shows how dramatically things have changed; there was no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no plastics, no cars, no radiation (that's a bad thing), no computers, no television, no stainless steel, no telephone, no radio, no ... well, the list is pretty exhaustive. Basically, everything that's of any importance to you if you live in the industrialized world. Your life right now is utterly controlled by technology.

"But wait!" you say, "I'm not technically literate*. I don't own a computer, car, television, telephone, or any other piece of electronics." Ah, but you shop from places which sell goods made by machines which couldn't have existed 200 hundred years ago. Even the basic manufacturing processes didn't exist back than. Nor did the transport vehicles, let alone the transport systems, needed to get that product to your door. And if you get water or gas from a major company, not only are they getting those resources through comparatively new technologies, but those systems are probably managed by computers.

The upshot is that we don't even have to go back 200 years, or 100 years, or even 50 years to find things that we couldn't live without. Granted, the further back you go, the more you would be missing out on - but the new technologies are running the old technologies. The chair you're sitting in is probably made with stainless steel (1904), plastic (1950s), and some sort of synthetic upholstery (1940s), designed on a computer (1970s), put together with robots (1954) and assembly lines (1920s), shipped by something with a diesel engine (1892), put into a shop which ordered it either online (1980s) or through the telephone (1876), and finally got by you. And if you paid with a credit card (1958), then that entire system of payment wouldn't be possible without modern technology.

This is all obvious stuff that we just don't think about too often. Even more profound is the fact that in 1995 the internet had 19,000 websites - in just twelve years that's ballooned to more than 50,000,000,000. Considering how much it's used by everyone in the industrialized world, even those who don't use it directly, how can we not look at this advancement and marvel at what it is to be human? How can we not yearn for the future?

*In which case I have no idea why you're reading a blog.

First Post!

I've had this recurring trend lately where I can't find anyone to talk to about the things that really matter to me. Not the personal stuff, because there really isn't much of that anymore, but things like information systems, the changing world of technology, the failures of both lower and higher education, the fourth dimension, and lots of stuff which I read about. There's this glazed over look that people get in their eyes when I'm talking to them that tells me I've gone beyond the polite indulgences of normal conversation.

This isn't my first blog. If I'm being realistic, I would say that it's going to last around twenty to thirty posts, encompassing maybe two weeks of my time. That means that if you're reading this, it's probably long after it's stopped being updated. No matter; this is more for my benefit than yours.

More biographical information as it becomes relevant, or just Google me; my name is Ben Friesen, but I usually go by the alias Alexander Wales (run it together as one word).