I just completed a silent week of retreat with the Trappists of Spencer Abbey in the hills of western Massachusetts. After this week without Internet, phone, television, radio or news media, I’ve come to believe we humans have already lost the robot wars hypothesized by science fiction writers.
Just as ancient Rome fell to the very barbarians they had hired into their army as mercenaries, the recently released Chappie sci-fi movie features robots that serve as police.
Today, we are captive to technologies we’ve developed, which no longer serve us as much as rule us. Perhaps not yet as dire as the Chappie photo above, but just as pervasively disarming:
- Email and texting have replaced human conversation to an alarming degree
- Smart phones have relieved us of our privacy, enabling us to be physically separated but electronically connected
- Automated voice response systems shield companies from their customers, making it maddeningly difficult to get a human on the phone to answer a question or address a problem
- If I don’t change a channel or adjust the volume of my “smart” TV for four consecutive hours, it shuts itself off—even as I sit there watching a movie
- After 10 years of driving my Audi, I still can’t raise or lower a window to the level I want
- Thanks to texting technology, we cannot keep children from sharing pictures of their privates
- When electricity fails, human activity stops in its tracks
I’m not alone in questioning if our new technology is paying the promised dividends—such as more free time.
Ever since the Luddite uprising against the British industrial revolution two centuries ago, people have opposed the arrival of technologies that threatened to change the way they work and live.
German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote in 1954, "Everywhere we remain un-free and chained to technology."
In 2010, Yale University professor David Gelernter called for anti-Internet activism:
… not in the sense of a destructive Luddite movement that makes it a practice of destroying computers, but a group of intellectual dissent that asks us to slow down, that asks us to evaluate what we have achieved, that asks us in practical terms what we have gotten for our money, asks us what environment our children are growing up in.
Another way to put it, as movie scientist Deon says to Chappie the robot, “I created you, but I might not survive you.”
In my next blog: “All It Takes”
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