Wednesday, September 29, 2010

evolution's soapbox meditations on technology

The irony that I am using a computer to post this to the internet is inescapable.

I think our first mistake as a species had nothing to do with coming down from the trees, covetous thoughts or the invention of money. That belongs to the moment we decided to create things to make our lives easier.

It probably started with the shoe. A basic but useful tool, it protected our feet from sharp objects and hot surfaces. They allowed us to walk further than we had ever been before. Dirt was left behind when you removed them at the front door protecting our homes from invasive germs.

But was it the vision of a gilded stiletto that drew us from the safety of the branches to explore the dangerous savannah? Or was it just plain curiosity about the world beyond the horizon?

You can disagree all you want, but the car is a direct descendent of that first shoe. Mechanized vehicles brought us to lands we had only dreamt of. We were presented with new possibilities about the world and we were better equipped to seek them out and to do it in a timely fashion. Suddenly you were able to visit more places and spend less time getting there so you could use those extra moments to enjoy the place to which you had traveled.

Because these vehicles and modes of transportation consume massive amounts of natural resources, it was only a matter of time before someone created a way to explore the universe, discuss and debate our deepest beliefs, and to accomplish it all while sitting perfectly still for hours.

Behold the computer. The deity of now, the all knowing oracle, the P.T. Barnum of the 21st century.

It has stripped the world of its mystery by instantly providing the seeker with a variety of answers to their questions. And while we have not given up our machines of locomotion, this new convenience allows us to view distant vistas and interact with cultures we otherwise might not have the opportunity to expose ourselves to in person.

Though, when we do travel, we can plan every moment of our trip and make spontaneous real time decisions irrelevant. Plus we will know exactly what things are supposed to look like before we ever get there.

So why leave at all?

Do you remember when phone calls after 8pm only meant bad news? We carry the son of the new god in our pockets, caressing it throughout the day, smiling when it calls out to us.

No longer do we need to search through a sea of information to quiet our need to know. Just by touching the screen everything we desire is already there, waiting. We can locate our friends in whatever city they might be in. We can pass some of that extra free time by playing elaborate games that are visually as real as life itself. It shows us what is on the television right now even if we don’t own one.

Kept tight in our hands and dear in our hearts, will it one day merge with our very bodies and create a world of all knowing, omni-prescient beings who can see and be everywhere at once?

If knowledge is power, then how mighty can you become through the endless updates on any topic or issue we choose? The instant something happens, we know about it and if we’re quick enough we can forward it before anyone else and everyone will marvel at how in the moment you are.

It has never been easier to influence the opinion of other people without having one of your own. Just hit resend.

And in this easy world we don’t get offended when our friends don’t pay attention to what we are sharing with them. We can just pretend their small tiny face is shining up at us in awe at our ability to navigate through this overcrowded world of to do lists and people trying to be relevant.

No longer is it necessary to defend the points you are making, all that matters is your thoughts are posted and if anyone disagrees they are welcome to move on and check on one of the other one thousand friends they are keeping up with.

Should we engage in a discussion, don’t forget that it’s my post and if I disagree I can always delete what you’ve said without ever considering your point of view.

My parents used to drag me with them on Sunday afternoons to visit other people with no purpose other than the desire to sit and talk with one another. Face to face, in full exposure of another person’s feelings and differences.

It’s how humans learn acceptance and compromise. By those interactions we form bonds that allow us to help each other because we know and agree that the world is a dangerous place and has been since the moment we set foot in it.

Has the level of crazy in our existence increased as we've attempted to make our lives easier?

Perhaps in the very structure of reality there is a reason for the difficulties and challenges that face us. Maybe when they are removed, something without any guarantees that it can be overcome replaces it.

So leaving the trees might have been the first mistake after all.

Now that we know just about everything and waste enormous amounts of time reminding each other of that fact, we might be ready to return to the safety of the limbs. Where everything we need is at the tips of our fingers, and we never have to travel far because our entire world is in one place. And knowing that our clan is with us is as easy as touching the image of a button

1 comment:

  1. You took me back to long summer days that turned into nights sitting on someone's couch or lawn chair because of my mother's need for adult communication and sence of community. I never got why we went just to sit there and listen to "old" people talk about things I knew nothing of. However, now that I think about those times I can't help but to smile because of the memories of those long summer nights. It's easy to refer to those times as simpler but they were just that. Times when people weren't in a hurry to "post" their lives minute by minute to the entire world but in turn were looking for opportunities to engage their fellow men and interact as a community. I find joy in knowing that I was part of those times and in part how they shaped me into the man I am today. Take a deep breath, laugh until you cry and be thankful for today.