Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cassandra's Children

There is a war going on. There always is, somewhere, of course. But this is not a war between nations or ideologies, but a war between human beings and the technology we have created, and it is a war we humans are surely losing. 

It's not that we haven't been warned, time and time again, and shrugged or laughed the naysayers away. 
We have, incomprehensibly, simply ignored the fundamental axiom that "fire makes a good servant, but a cruel master." Technology is our modern-day fire. And melodramatic as it may sound, the technology we created to serve us is inexorably becoming our master. We have already reached the point where we, as a society, cannot survivefiguratively but increasingly literally–without our iPods and our smartphones and our laptops and the 450,000 "apps" available on our ever-at-the-ear cell phones. As we become more and more dependent on the things we have created–ironically intended to make us more independent–the focus subtly shifts from our using them to them using us. 

And if that were not bad enough, technology makes it possible for bureaucracies to become ever more complex and difficult to deal with. Just in case this thought had never occurred to you, look around you any time you go out into the street, or into a coffee shop or restaurant and count the number of people glued to their electronic gadgetry, or pick up a phone to call a credit card company to ask a question or report a problem with your internet or cable service. And for the most part, we go along without question, like lambs off to slaughter. We may not like it, but we say nothing. We do nothing. We accept.

Melodramatic? Of course. But consider that 30 years ago, no one had a computer, and the world went on quite well. Now computers have become laptops which have become telephones and BlueBerries and BlackBerries and iPods and iPhones and smartphones and every day more and more come along to make our lives even more complex.

And the more reliant we become on technology, the more control we lose over our own lives and destinies, and increasingly we take out our building rage not on our phones–which, after instructing us to Press 1 for English in our own country, assures us every thirty seconds that our call is VERY important to whichever faceless corporation we are calling for help or information, while we are kept on hold for 45 minutes–but on each other. The feeling of utter helplessness that each run-in with the Frankenstein's Monsters we have created engenders the urge to lash out, which in turn leads inevitably to the Columbines and Virginia Techs and Fort Hoods. And each time we shake our heads and wonder how it could ever have happened.

One of my favorite characters in all mythology is Cassandra. The god Apollo fell in love with her and gave her the gift of prophecy. And after they had a falling out, because a gift given by the gods cannot be taken back, Apollo modified it so that while Cassandra was unerringly correct in her predictions, no one would believe her.

There are Cassandras among us today...there always have been. People who accurately foresee the future...if not in explicit detail at least in inescapable trends. And they are universally ignored until what they predicted has come to pass, and then it is too late.

There is a scene in the 1971 film, THX1138...Steven Spielberg's first...wherein a future society totally controlled by technology offers its citizens handy "Jesus Booths" where anyone can go for comfort. Enter the booth, and an image of Jesus appears. "What is your problem, my child?" The image asks, his face showing true concern and nods slowly, every ten seconds. Every fifteen seconds, regardless of what the human in the booth is doing or saying, it says "I see," and every forty five seconds it says "Could you be more...specific?"

I've often cited E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" and movies like Logan's Run as examples of perhaps only slightly exaggerated future scenarios. And what about global warming? And the dangers of overpopulation?

Ah, but what does it matter, really? There's not a thing I can do about it, after all. I'd just go watch some intellectually brilliant TV fare like Here Comes Honey Barf-Barf , but my cable is out and my call to the cable company is still on "hold" after six hours.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

Actually, THX-1138 was directed by George Lucas, not Spielberg. =)

A friend and fellow writer was visiting a month ago and she asked to see my phone. She then proceeded to start installing an app on it, which I then reclaimed my phone and stopped the app from loading.

I carry a cell phone for two reasons; I text and I use it to take calls. I refuse to add apps. I don't like them. And I'm often made fun of for it.

Technology can be useful, but it's also becoming a burden to keep up with. I prefer to keep things simple. I don't use social media on my phone. I don't listen to music on it. I don't want to.

And, for the record, I HATE dealing with automated systems when I call in to report something. Grrr...