Monthly Archives: April 2010

Freedom Lies

There was a young man who said, “Damn.
I begin to perceive that I am
A creature that moves
In determinate grooves.
I’m not even a bus, I’m a

There was an old man who said, “Cuss
I must choose between better and wuss.
By rulings of Fate,
I must keep myself straight.
I’m not even a tram, I’m a

One of my favorite old limericks. From the tram’s perspective, the bus appears “free”. But from the view of the bus, the innocence of the tram appears blessed with “freedom”. Like the bus and tram’s distorted thoughts of being free, people often imagine that freedom is coming around the next corner, once we accomplish “this” or once we take care of “that”. We stop living in anticipation for the freedom we’ll have once we’ve figured out our personal problems, paid off all our debts, finished our schooling and are finally caught up on life at large – as if one oh so desirable day we will finally be free and happy to just be. Wrong! How you live each and every day is how you live your life. Don’t wait to “be free” cuz life will pass you right on by.

The Pendulum of Being

I stand corrected! The motivation for my past post, “Technology is not the problem. We are.” is such that I’m tired of how technology is the all-too-often/convenient scapegoat for the evils of our world. Swinging the “pendulum of being” in the opposite direction, however, offers a similarly limited and reductionist way of understanding. I’m guilty as charged for taking an overly-simplistic approach to thinking. I’ll try again….

Humans and technology have a very complex and co-constitutive relationship of mutual inter-dependence: as we make our technologies, they then make and shape who we are. We cannot fully understand our selves, others and shared worlds without knowledge of technology. Simultaneously, the more we want to learn about technology, the more we need to understand about being human.

Historically speaking, humans and technologies were generally distinguishable from each other. At present, however, technology is more like an extension of life, and it is far less clear to determine what it means to be human and what it means to be technology. For example, we can make prosthetic arms with skin that is sensitive to touch, we can create life by cloning and genetic manipulation, machines have intelligence, robots have emotions, and I often hear phrases like “all reality is virtual reality,” “I couldn’t live without my <insert technological device>,” “my whole life is on my computer,” and consider the human technology ofglobal consciousness.”

If we think of technology as an extension of life, then this brings forth more questions:

  • Are we human beings or human technologies? Hybrids?
  • Are those with cyborg capabilities the new “survival of the fittest”?
  • Are humans the “old machines” the outdated, unwanted, good-for-nothing technology?
  • Are humans on the trajectory of devolving into the life-sustaining body of technology (which cannot yet reproduced itself)? Our future humanity merely existing as a dispassionate standing reserve of human energy, a meaningless resource just waiting to be technologized?

While humans seem to consistently have the same flaws throughout history, what about the character of technology? Technology’s driving and demanding ways of relentless competition, calculative efficiency and optimized/maximized potential is evolving exponentially, at speeds and scales to the likes of which humans have never ever experienced before…. Our petal-to-the-metal, high-pressured, high-speed way of living reflects the human will to technology (technology fueled by human volition). Consider, for example, how it took several million years from the first chipped stone tool to the smelting of iron. It took just a mere 1000 yearsfrom the first iron to the hydrogen bomb. And in only a few decades, we have created the most energy-dense of all things in the universe (to our current knowledge), the thing that has more energy flowing through it (per gram, per second) than even a star… What is this thing? It’s the PC chip.

Humans (arguably steadfast over time in terms of character strengths and flaws) are part of this technological acceleration, this force that is MUCH greater and MORE dynamic than our species. The rise-progress-disaster-demise of past civilizations serves as a historied projection of the past upon the future, warning that technology is like a dangerous child that the human family has let loose on our planetary home… As the pendulum of being swings, we’re seeing the consequences of human technological evolution all around us. Technology is not the problem. Humans are not the problem. It’s a family matter and the issues are relational. //PJ

Technology is not the problem. We are.

Recently I was interviewed by The Experimental Engagement Manifesto (an investigation into how to motivate, engage and inspire people to do good). One of the questions was: “What surprizes you about people?” The first answer that came to mind was “I’m surprized by how people suffer so much and are unable to be happy.”

Upon second thought, what causes this suffering and lack of happiness? Why are our media full of tragic stories about liars, cheaters, stealers, murderers, corrupters, bullies, and abusers (drugs, sex and other self-destructive habits)? Why can’t we get along with others? Even our own families and friends betray us. Our shared world is full of poverty, AIDS, sickness, self-hatred, anger, hypocrisy, injustice, pollution, garbage…

We are unequivocally out of control. We are putting dangerous demands on all natural systems, especially the air, water, earth and our very being (the elements of life as we know it). How long can this go on before our civilization crashes? The 20th century marks a time of “runaway-train” growth in human desires, human population, human self-centeredness, human addictions, human consumption and human waste… The 21st century marks a “milieu technique,” the digital age, the unleashing of the powerful force of technology upon our people and our planet. Is technology humanity’s saving grace or its suicide machine?

Kevin Kelly is an expert on Technology’s Epic Story. He argues that technology is the cosmic force that gives humanity the potential for difference, diversity, options, choices, opportunities, possibilities and freedoms:

“The origins of technology was not in 1829, but was actually at the beginning of the Big Bang, and at that moment the entire huge billions of stars in the universe were compressed. The entire universe was compressed into a little quantum dot, and it was so tight in there was no room for any difference at all. After the Big Bang, what we have is the potential for differences, diversity, options, choices, opportunities, possibilities and freedoms. Those are all basically the things that technology bring us.”

While Kevin Kelly is enthusiastic about technology, which he defines as an extension of life, others view technology as a death sentence. Technology is, in many ways, today’s convenient scapegoat for human evil and human suffering (kids are playing too many violent video games, grown-ups are manipulated by media, family togetherness has been replaced by the tv, toxic waste is destroying the biosphere, genetically modified foods are causing cancer, etc.). We are scared and we want someone or something to be accountable. We blame technology (digital /nano /cybernetic /information /other) as we are unwilling to blame ourselves for not knowing how to solve our problems and for not knowing how to control ourselves. Technology is not the real source of the world’s suffering. WE ARE. The problem is in us. And thanks to the internet, our problems are staring us right in the face, in full-on illumination, demanding that we notice that which we don’t want to see (problems which were always and already present). Ironically, we want to accuse technology for what it reveals rather than forcing ourselves to contend with what it makes known.

Each time civilization repeats itself, so it is said, the price goes up. All past civilizations wore out their welcome from nature and collapsed (the stone age, bronze age, golden age, iron age and other ages). Maybe the invention of civilization is the problem? In this Digital Age, are we repeating our past patterns of progress, disaster and demise? Is our fate is in our hands, our minds, our hearts or our technologies?

How do we control ourselves, stop human suffering and live happily ever after?