December 25th, 2011
avoiders, often called "Luddites" since the early 19th century, seem
to be a permanent aspect of humanity. It is not hard to understand the
impulse to fear and avoid new technologies. After all, humans do evolve
with technologies: they do change us; or we change them and then they
change us. Humans and technology are fully intertwined: we could
not be human without clothing technologies, housing technologies, fire-making
technologies, agricultural technologies, mobility technologies, or inscribing
and communication technologies.
Yet, with each new technology, we have seemed to leave our past behind, to
separate ourselves from our previous selves. We have suddenly gone faster
than any human in history, flown in the air as no human ever had, ameliorated
or ended diseases that had plagued humans for centuries, arrived on the moon
which humans had fantasized about for millennia. With each new discovery,
we seemed to separate ourselves from our past. We were in a "new
era" each time. We liked to think that our new wisdom discounted the
entirety of previous human wisdom. After all, we were on the "arrow of
time," and the arrow goes in only one direction.
But, still. The idea of and faith in continual human progress soured in
the last century as "human progress" led to the atomic bomb, horrific
wars (2.5 % of humanity was killed in WWII), led to the recognition of a darker
side of our psychology, and led many of us to "return to the earth"
to find solace.
Information technology emerged shortly after World War II. It is the
ultimate technology because information technology can control other
technologies and therefore can extend human power and intelligence
infinitely. But, could we trust this new machine? This encoding of
the world to respond to our word? We have achieved dominion over the
earth, which has frightened us as it also enthralled us.
But, does this ultimate technology (think of what those terms mean in human
history!) separate us from our ancestors as have other technologies?
Having reached, in a sense, the end of our human trek toward dominion over the
earth, ironically, we are back where we started. We are forming the human
tribe. We are re-claiming the values of orality -- instant, fluid,
ongoing human conversation over the entire globe. Knowledge has become
unfixed from print anchors and has resumed its familiar place in the minds of
conversant humans: we have the flux and flow of orality that is also
archivable. We have the best of both worlds.
The ultimate technology brings us back in touch with humanity as it was for
hundreds of thousands of years before the discordant centuries of "human progress"
which, we imagined, made us less human and more masters. Some have called those
500 years a "parenthesis" in the long history of humankind.
But, the ulitmate technology and its implications is not widely understood in
this historical context. Before we can realize that we have re-connected to
oral culture and its wonders, we need to re-frame how we see ourselves.
Who identifies himself or herself, first, as "human?" Humans
have spent dozens of centuries in diaspora of one kind or another -- separating
ourselves from each other, distancing ourselves literally and
figuratively. The ultimate technology lets us come back together.
Human conversation is now global. Humans cannot be human (as we know us)
without technologies, and we have now adopted the ultimate technology that
brings us back to our qualitative human past. Better said: the
technology allows us to re-claim aspects of our qualitative human past.
We are no longer separating ourselves on that putative arrow of time, but
finding within ourselves a larger imagination, one that encompasses our past,
future, and all of ourselves.