New Year’s Tech

When I was a little boy, a mother’s lap was the only car-seat a kid needed. Dictionaries were large books with finger tabs for quick access by letter. Encyclopedias were purchased at the supermarket, one book per week. We often browsed catalogs and filled-out order-forms that were mailed-in with personal checks — we received our packages at some indeterminate time in the future.

Fancy TVs had real wood cases surrounding the picture tube, they were thick and heavy. To change the channel we got up and turned a dial that clicked into place for each corresponding number, luckily there weren’t many channels to choose from. We watched TV shows at designated times. If we missed an episode we could catch it again in a rerun. With limited TVs, fighting or tantrums often controlled what was watched.

If we wanted to talk to a friend we called his house, asked his mom or dad if he was home, then talked until someone else needed the phone. A busy signal meant we kept calling over and over until whoever finally hung up. If events were cancelled, people would call around to let everyone know, some wouldn’t get the message and just show up, waiting for the party to begin.

If someone left the house, we typically wouldn’t hear from them until they got back home. Trends often traveled by cousins or clubs or camps. If we had questions about life we could ask a parent or sibling, our friends, or a teacher. If we needed a more extensive answer we could go to a library and browse through some books in the related category.

If we wanted to rant, we wrote cursive inside of notebooks that nobody read. If we were bored or lonely we had to make do. We had little to no contact with those outside of our immediate surroundings. Games typically required other participants. TV had limited programming and at times aired only reruns. Stores had limited hours and required transportation.

I appreciate the technological advances of today. When the Internet came into being it was like discovering a new world. Through the Internet I found companionship and purpose. I’ve spent about half my life within this virtual realm — exploring, observing, and interacting. It turns out that the next frontier wasn’t outer-space, but cyber-space — the world-wide interconnected consciousness of mankind. And through communication, we find unity. So it is with this thought that I welcome in the new year.

Technological Hubris

That those of old knew less is ridiculous.
What do you know, modern man?
You know how to press buttons.

Your survival relies on what you misunderstand.
As trust in technology grows, so does frailty.
A break in the chain and it crumbles away.

At least those of old knew life was beyond control,
and knowing, gave thanks for things received.
Yet you modern man, not knowing, thank yourself.

Imagining someone somewhere knows something,
depending on the surety of answers for solace,
believing in the fantasy of factuality.

A machine may function as expected,
but the underlying why is never known.
In your understanding, it might as well be magic.

So what do you know, modern man?
Living within a world beyond comprehension,
speaking spells into the ether.

Dirty Hands

The more a civilization relies on advanced technology to sustain itself, the more its foundation is built on what it does not understand. If something breaks, the civilization may crash, and primitive methods may be insufficient or forgotten.

Therefore, a goal of any civilization should be locally sustainable farming and manufacturing. While advanced technology is a worthy endeavor, it must be a layer on top of society, not its foundation. This, coupled with the human need for fulfilling activity, means humanity should seek direct experience with its surroundings.

In other words, what should the bulk of society be doing with its time? Should people play an active part in their own maintenance, harmonizing with their environment — or should they receive food pellets, becoming sheltered from nature while transported to jobs with outcomes too frivolous to appreciate?

Multitudes languish in roles without meaning, no sense of purpose or fulfillment — so why not seek the authentic life? Hands dirty, shaping their surroundings, communities growing and building what they consume. Or alternatively, continue on the path to isolation, eyes fixed upon screens, consuming an artificial experience created within remote factories.

Trusted Components

According to my academic performance, my memory is decent, if not better than decent. But even so, I forget so much of what I take in — it gets wiped clean. And because of this lack of retention, we as individuals, and as a society, are not able to grow beyond superficial levels.

Why can’t we just write it down in a notebook? It would likely get too large to consume — we’d forget the beginning before reaching the end. Without a collective memory, individuals and society suffer the same ills across every generation — yet why does technology advance so rapidly?

Technology is able to advance significantly because of black box systems. When something is figured out, it’s compartmentalized — these known-to-work components can be plugged-in without understanding their implementation details. Complex components can be combined to create something even more complex — and so on.

So for significant individual and societal growth, we would need something similar to black box systems. Without trusted components, we have to keep figuring out everything from scratch at every step along the way — which is tedious. But of course, one has to wonder, is the concept of trusted components applicable to individuals/society?

Collective Understanding

Advances in technology show that the human collective can learn and build upon knowledge. But if that’s true, why hasn’t human society advanced in a similar rate to its technological achievements. In other words, why hasn’t humanity worked the bugs out of its social structure. Perhaps technology, such as global communication, is a necessary component.

The differences in human groups are typically magnified by geographic isolation. Different languages or accents, as well as other cultural and physical variances, typically occur when sub-groups separate and live for a period of time in isolated or semi-isolated regions. But with global travel and global communication, humanity would tend to homogenize. Previously, any splinter group could sufficiently isolate itself so as to develop new characteristics, but this will become less likely due to the hegemony of a global society.

So perhaps it’s not that humanity is unable to socially evolve, it’s that geographic isolation made it too easy to develop distinct philosophical, cultural, and physical differences. Perhaps the development of a global network of communication is a necessary component for social evolution. And once that network is pervasive amongst all generations, perhaps a global consciousness will emerge.

Modern Miracles

But why don’t we see miracles today?

What is technology then?
From robes to lab coats.
From flesh and spirit to silicon and electricity.

Prophets explaining the workings of the world,
seemingly mad seers now shouting from blogs,
priests at machines expressing the extraordinary.

Citing tomes, deciphering symbols,
displaying powers beyond human capabilities,
bringing the dead back to life.

Miracles exist, they’re just themed for the age.
Deus ex machina — god from the machine.