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An Ode to Technology: Homo Sapiens' Heritage

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An Ode to Technology: Homo Sapiens' Heritage

A rebuttal to my friend


No "Tecknolegy" sign. by Sammy0716

My friend has taken to herself the task of writing a number of multi-disciplinary essays as part of her professional development as a writer. I must admit that I am truly thrilled for her, and because of it, I have been debating her in an attempt to fuel her arguments and research on the various subjects she is venturing in. Last night she mentioned that her latest essay would be focusing on Technology. Knowing her, she will probably list a myriad of well written arguments on how technology is making us less humans, and driving us away from each other in a metropolis of cold, artificial metal.

Let us briefly explore why this isn't necessarily the case. Let's step into an imaginary time machine and journey a little back through time. We are now in the year 1918, when a phenomenon had started to emerge and change the face of towns and cities in industrialized countries; the main streets went from a gathering place for people, horses and wagons to a parking place for the ubiquitous Automobile. Living in this timeframe, with your eyes set exclusively on the present, you can imagine how easy it must have been for many people to perceive the negative impact of such a technological contraption. Namely, the streets were now a dangerous, off-limits part of town and nevermore the colorful place to gather, walk and socialize that they once were.

Granted, an invention like the Automobile had then (and continues to have) an exponential growing rate of dangers and unfavorable effects on society; such as accidents resulting in injuries, death, and air pollution. Does this mean that the flaws outweigh the benefits of its invention? - Far from it. The automobile to say the least, re-shaped society and economy, it allowed for the growth of cities and the creation of suburbs. Now people were able to travel far distances to visit families abroad during the weekends, find a job, or be able to study away from the vicinity of their neighborhood. Business grew and economy prospered because goods and human resources could be distributed along great distances. As for the flaws of such an invention, laws with its regard were created, implemented and continue to improve according to the needs of the society. The damage to the environment is being mitigated; we now have emerging technologies for clean energy that are soon to replace the current oil burning fuel that is so toxic to the atmosphere.

Let us put aside the Automobile for a moment, and travel further back in time to the 15th century. This is a time which is said to have given birth to one of the most important technological inventions of a millennium, The Printing Press. Again as with the Automobile, we face a similar reluctance and rejection from some people, especially the few calligraphers, who considered their job an art and a life profession; undoubtedly calligraphy was an art, and it continues to be so. The "arrival' of the Printing Press did not abolish the artistry from calligraphy and manuscripts; it simply abolished its status as a monopoly on the written word. It opened the doors of literacy from just a few privileged nobles and clergy men -with access to expensive education- to the whole of humanity. It gradually and slowly strengthened the Renaissance from whence it was born, and gave way to the proliferation of education across the different social classes, and the subsequent social revolutions that followed. It also led the way to great thinkers such as Rousseau, Locke, Jefferson, and Hume (to name a few), and the thousands and eventually millions of lives who were then able to read their works, and use them as tools to change society, culture and themselves. And yet, I am willing to bet that some people during that time suggested that written words and scholar education belonged to a privileged few, and that to bring it to the masses of the underclass was at the very least, a distasteful sin. But that is just a personal inkling.

There are many memorable short quotes, remarks and even written works criticizing or expressing disdain for new technological implementations; such as the radio, airplanes, electricity, computers, telephone and television, etc. Most of these inventions at the time of their discovery seemed trivial, stupid or ridiculous contraptions with no practical implementation to many people. Here are a few exquisitely funny examples:

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." --Western Union internal memo, 1876.

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" --H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" --David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920's.

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." --Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp.,1977

"The Internet? We are not interested in it" -- Bill Gates, 1993

New technologies are often perceived as a silly new fad, a vulgar deviation from the good old "classic'. The classic is always perceived by the present generation as more organic and more stable. But the cynical critics of technological advancements are often unaware that this "silly fad', often becomes the "classic' standard of newer generations. The worn old 15th century edition of a renaissance book, which you may deem as a classic piece of artistic and intellectual endeavor of old times, could very well have been a grotesque and vulgar implementation of mass production literature, to a "classic" purist of that time. The same criticism was made of the Beatles, by members of the "Silent Generation', of the piano by a baroque music enthusiast, or of the telephone by a telegraph user. You take your pick.

I can imagine that another good reason for the quotes above to be so common when they arise, is probably the reluctance to change. It could arguably be said that change is the driving force of human civilization, and yet it sometimes feels almost like a daring sin just to be able to embrace it. Status quo on the other hand, offers stability and protection from failure and rejection. Possibly for this reason and many more, change is not a cheap item to buy; it is not for the faint of heart, and it requires us to open ourselves to something that may seem ridiculous at first, risky or even vulgar when compared to the institution of the "classic'. However, change, or the movement of the zeitgeist, is one thing that is always to be persistent in the present and future generations. It needs the ingenuity and imagination of a few brave and daring individuals, because ultimately, the advancement of civilization depends on it.

Today, in what we call post-industrial society, an ubiquitous movement given the title of "Informational Revolution', has spawned what many call a "Global Village'. This concept has been paved by the invention of the microchip; personal computers, and ultimately, the Internet. Thanks to it, Information and ideas are easily delivered through affordable communication technology not available before, and it is now increasingly accessible to millions across the globe. You have organizations that are able to exchange and diffuse ideas and information; businesses able to obtain precise data about their operations and growth; artists able to share inspiration, exchange thoughts and their works; you have peer reviews and widely voiced opinions, and fellowships that would've been unlikely previous to this milestone. We are now able to create large communities that transcend the physical barriers that once kept them segregated.

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A freelance writer and a philosopher, hailing from the island of Puerto Rico and currently living in Germantown Maryland.

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