The specter of technology

appearing in Kshiteez 2001
Can you think of things in your home made of plastic? How about in your car? Better yet, things that run on electricity. Amazing, how much how much technology we use in our daily lives!

We’ve come a long way from our hunter/gatherer ancestors. If you want to trace our footsteps back through the technology corridor of time, here’s a simple list: discovery of fire, agriculture, animal husbandry, arithmetic, the wheel, geometry, the abacus, caravans, ships, telescope, theory of gravity, steam engine, industrial revolution, penicillin, electricity, theory of relativity, x-rays, the light bulb, airplane, the atom bomb, the first computer, telephone, radio, TV, sputnik, men on the moon, transistors, the first hand held calculator, windows, cell-phones .. and now the Internet. I’m sure you can think of a lot more to add to the list.

Whenever we’re sick, we don’t think of shamans, we think of doctors and x-ray machines and syringes. When the refrigerator’s empty, we think of grocery stores instead of farms. Burning wood reminds us more of barbecues and smoked sausages instead of a simple lunch. A nice sunny day reminds us of a planned vacation in a beach somewhere in Tahiti.

Some of the things I use nowadays surprises me when I happen to think about it. I use one of those web-enabled cell-phones to look up movie listings every now and then. Press a couple of buttons and voila! Compare that to even a few years back.. look up in a newspaper, call up the theater or even drive right up to it. Microwave dinners, anyone? ATM machines? Self-test blood-pressure kits? There are a lot of other convenience-enhancing items that I take for granted.

That’s because I happen to live in a technologically supported society. In some places in the world, we cannot even think of living without some of these. Even in some of the least developed places on earth, we can see people tilling the land with tractors or hear the sound of machinery and transport devices.

Through the ages, every step of the way, technology has touched and changed every facet of our lives .. the way we eat, the way we sleep, the way we communicate, the way we socialize, the viewpoints we support, the religious beliefs we have. Nations have fallen, churches have changed or vanished, new societies have formed, millions have died. Entire cultures have vanished away. Culturally, we’re in leap-frog mode. Leap through a culture, wait for someone to leap over our own, and leap through again. Through the process, we forget what we’ve leaped through. All this is happening blindingly fast. I remember reading in an article once, there are places in Nepal, where the people saw an airplane land before they even saw the wheel.

Every new thing we adopt is something we’ve never encountered before, by definition itself. But somehow, call it resiliency, call it whatever else you want, we make it a part of us, our society. We mutate socially, intellectually. We transform. This is our way of coping with the changes that technology afflicts upon us. Like a two headed serpent, each introduction of something new brings with it both further convenience and more challenges. But we still keep going at it, with the specter of technology always with us.

Wouldn’t you like live a little longer, maybe? See your great grandchildren in this age of late-in-life marriages? Wouldn’t you like to fly away to Manchuria once in your life? Wouldn’t you like to be able to put some paste from a tube into your new kitchen appliance, and enjoy a perfectly delicious pizza a few minutes later? Wouldn’t you like to see everyone fed in the world? I would.

We try to grow more food, or try to keep in touch with loved ones far away, or go somewhere far where where there is peace and quiet or try to make someone live longer. We’re driven by the need to make our lives easier. And we do this by the only way most of us know how, through technology. We like to think we’re good at it.

The effect of technology grows exponentially. It gets easier and easier to discover and invent new things what with computers everywhere and more people trying for it (population is not decreasing). We’ve even reached the stage where we’re creating new types of poodles, goats that give silk instead of milk or use fingers as cell-phone antennas. In about twenty years, as I like to say to my friends, I will be able to replace my lungs with a pair grown in a vat, entirely from scratch and a little help from some of my own cells. Infertile couples are going to scientists with hopes of creating a healthy child from an amalgamation of their genetic material.

Of all the new technologies coming down the pipe, genetics is growing the most rapidly. And, I think, the most scary. There are laws being formulated frantically all over the globe, limiting experimentation on human embryos and stem cells.

Again, we’re trying to cope with what we ourselves brought on to us. That’s what we’ve been able to do pretty well, if history is correct. Of course, we’ve had our share of nightmares like the Hiroshima bombing or the holocaust. But humanity as a whole survived.

This time, however, it may be a little different. Would you be able to deal with a real live “Ganesh” with four hands and a snout? How about a super-strong laborer with very little brains? That’s what’s coming if we’re not careful with what we bring forth in this world. At the grocery store, You might find yourself thinking, how the heck did they make this tomato grow so big.

But then again, maybe it sounds scary because it deals with a technology that we can really relate to, a technology of flesh and blood and death. Maybe we’re resilient enough to survive that as well. Maybe we’ll finally come to terms without our conflicting ideologies if we can pass this barrier. Maybe the specter of technology isn’t a specter at all, just a bad reflection of ourselves in the mirror.