This Is Progress?

First things first, if any of you reading this emailed me something any time between Wednesday night and 9:30 or so on Thursday morning, odds are good that I probably won’t be getting it unless you send it again. This morning I downloaded a bunch of mail onto Carin’s computer, which promptly proceeded to crash and eat about half of it. Needless to say, Steve was not a happy guy this morning.

But the tragic and untimely death of a massive amount of electronic correspondence did get me thinking. It got me thinking about the way we live and the ways in which we function as a society. How we do things, how things are done for us. Who and what we trust, and the things with which we trust them. In short, it got me thinking about whether we, as a people, are truly as advanced as we tend to think we are.

Stop and think about your own day to day life for a few minutes. Think about all of the conveniences that inovation has afforded you in the hopes that you’ll be a more efficient and productive worker during select hours, and lazier during others. Consider how much you’ve come to rely on those conveniences, and how much it sucks when you’re placed in a situation that doesn’t allow you to have access to them. Remember all those times when you were running late for something and you didn’t have your cell phone with you? You got pretty pissed off and annoyed with yourself, didn’t you? It’s ok, you can admit it, we’ve all been there and we’ve all reacted the same way. And why? Because we’ve become a culture that depends on computers and gadgets to keep us in touch 24/7. If you don’t think that’s true, think about how angry you get when your buddy doesn’t have his phone turned on, or the profound sense of shock you feel when you happen upon somebody who doesn’t use the internet and has no use for an email address and then tell me again that I’m wrong. Ok, now that you’re on side, ask yourself this question. For all of the teleconferencing and instant messaging and email and whatever else you want to throw in there that’s supposed to save time and make things easier, are we really that much better off? Have all of the technological safeguards that we’ve put in place to prevent mistakes and their associated misery really worked, or have we simply swapped one set of problems for another? Personally, I think the answer is pretty simple.

I won’t try to argue that technology doesn’t have it’s good points. I understand and appreciate that a great many inventions have been a great deal of help to a lot of people. Without some of the concepts and improvements that have come along over the years, I can pretty safely say that my life as a blind person would suck mightily. Because of technology, I can pay bills without help, I can keep track of notes I need to read in order to do various jobs, I can piss around doing stupid crap on the net while I’m supposed to be doing those jobs, I can do, well, pretty much anything I want, and I have technology to thank for that. But that being said, I truly believe that we’ve come to depend on and blindly trust in it’s supposed infallibility way more than we should. What happened to my email today is a fine example of that. Sure, email’s great when it works, but if for some reason something goes wrong, boom, it’s all gone and you’re out some important company memos, just like that, no questions asked. It’s all gone and there’s nothing you can do about it. Think of it this way. When a postal truck flips over on the highway and bursts into flames, what do you suppose happens to all the mail? That’s right, it’s gone. that’s it, there’s no getting it back. John’s house payment and Francine’s thank you cards are all incinerated and they won’t be getting to where they need to go. So how is it then that email is so much better? I know that in the time it takes to snap your fingers a couple of times you can send 1093 emails, but what good is that if they don’t get to their destinations? Have you ever gotten an email from somebody 2 weeks after it was sent? What’s the difference between that and those stories you hear on the news now and then about a postcard from Paris that was sent during World War 2 finally getting to somebody in Virginia 65 years after the fact? When you scale it down and consider how long each is supposed to take, there’s really no difference.

But where the point is really driven home for me is at the bank, or maybe I should say at what passes as a bank these days since you can bank from pretty much anywhere now. Me for instance, I do a majority of my banking over the phone. Stop and think about that. AT no time do I ever have to handle money, or interact with someone who does. Isn’t that weird? My entire monitary existence has been reduced to what amounts to nothing more than an abstract idea and some blind faith that the hard drive is good at math. Gee, I don’t see what could possibly go wrong there. What used to be me exchanging money with somebody else for goods and services has now become one machine telling another machine that I have the correct number of numbers required for that other machine to agree and then convince another actual person that they can then give me what I need. I’ll give you a moment to get your heads around that.

But in any event, I think I’ve made my point. All of this technology, as useful and helpful as some of it is, isn’t the saving grace of humanity that people would have you believe. Think about that the next time one of your “virtually faultless” CD’s starts skipping because it has a scratch in it. That sounds an awful lot like what happened to all of those records that sucked so much back in the day.

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