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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Paranoid Android

"By the time SkyNet became self-aware it had spread into millions of computer servers all across the planet. Ordinary computers in office buildings, dorm rooms, everywhere. It was software, in cyberspace. There was no system core. It could not be shut down. The attack began at 6:18 P.M. just as he said it would. Judgment Day. The day the human race was nearly destroyed by the weapons they built to protect themselves. I should have realized our destiny was never to stop Judgment Day; it was merely to survive it. Together. The Terminator knew. He tried to tell us, but I didn't want to hear it. Maybe the future has been written. I don't know. All I know is what the Terminator taught me. Never stop fighting. And I never will. The battle has just begun."
-'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines'

Don't worry, I'm not going to have a whole post about the apocalypse yet AGAIN. Although, this beginning monologue from T3 hooks perfectly onto the end of my last post and connects right into the subject of this one: technology and its many pitfalls and warnings. Have we become slaves to technology? Is it already too late to reverse the damning effects?

Before I get into a negative tangent on what nightmarish consequences that technology brings, I first want to go back in time to the 1980's during my childhood to frame a context. I did not grow up with texting, Ipads/phones, cell phones, computers, e-mail, mp3s/Ipods/Itunes, or even Internet. When I was a child, VCRs were brand new. I still remember the days pre-Blockbuster and Hollywood video when there were still mom n' pop video rental places. It was a novelty to go down to the corner video store and rent videos to watch on our VCR. Often, I would watch taped versions of Saturday morning cartoons and movies like 'Harry and the Hendersons', 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off', and 'Uncle Buck'. This was the cheap or lazy man's version of having movies ready to watch. I still go back to watch some of these videos, if only to see the now hilarious commercials and see the horrible haridos and outfits that were en vogue back then.

I lived in an age of microwaves, dust busters, Atari, casette tapes, and Walkmans (as big as your hand). My dad actually did have a CD player, but it was a heavy, metallic piece of fine machinery. I couldn't touch it unless I was supervised. He had a small collection of CD's, so I grew up listening to The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle, and The Moody Blues in surround sound. Our speakers were as big as a camp latch trunk. There were three metallic boxes stacked on top of one another: one where you put the CD in; one where you adjusted volume, bass, etc; and the other where the sound bars showed. It was serious! Every time you pressed on, the panel by the controls went in and made a little 'zzzz zrrt' noise. I mean, kids nowadays would think technology like this is Fred Flinstone stuff. Though the music at the time definitely reflected this new wave of computer byte technology.

I mean, I still remember rotary phones and the long rectangular cases that went with CD's when the technology first came out. You could only listen to the CD's at home though. You were consider lucky to have a tape deck in your car. Nowadays, I don't even know anyone that sells tapes. CD's are now becoming obsolete as well. At least vinyl hasn't gone out of style. I have both a record player and a fine collection of LPs, many of which I got from my college radio station (they would have been thrown out otherwise).

Technology has made a very fast growth in my lifetime, and I just turned 30. When you stop to think about it, it's sort of scary and intimidating. The first time I went on the Internet was freshman year of high school which is also around the same time I opened my first e-mail account on Hotmail. One of my computer savvy friends help me set it up. This same friend also used to sell hard disks of porn. This was back in the days before porn was easily accessed over the computer. I look back on the days of my youth like they were centuries ago. In fact, a student once asked me if 'I remember when you had to ask an operator for a telephone number' (funny). I'm too young for this, but I do remember when I first saw a DVD in a video store, around the age of 15, and thought to myself 'this will NEVER catch on!'. The joke's on me.

In elementary school, I can still remember learning about computers on the old Apple II, with the green screen. I learned how to type in commands and move a little turtle around, and store information on floppy disks (which were actually floppy) which was so cool at the time. Because my mom was in law school, I got to type many of my essays in 4th and 5th grade, a luxury few had. This was way before Microsoft Word and automatic spell check. Actually, the first essay I ever typed, I think it was in 3rd grade, I used a typewriter. Let me tell you that this was hell. You had to get everything right the first time, or use a lot of white out. Either way, it wasn't too fun!

Now, everything is so easy. Instead of kids using Encyclopedias or going to the library, the go online and do a search in Google. Many kids first stop is Wikipedia for information (which I also use but cringe at because anyone can change and fudge information). I have to admit that even though I like and embrace new technology that I'm pretty old school. I still use paper appointment books and address books. I like keeping information in notebooks and having paper calanders. I do not use a roledex, as my parents' was a messy and uncontrollable hodge podge of numbers (often out of date). We all use Google anytime we want to look something up. The printed word is also going out of style. Newspapers, magazines, books are often read either online or on machines like Kindles or Nooks. I refuse to get an e-reader because I still like the smell of new books and the atmosphere of book stores even more.

What I ask, however, is if we've become a slave to the technology we've created. Is the cautionary tale from movies series like The Terminator true? Are we, in fact, robots? Have we turned into the 'monster' we have created?

I would argue that many of the pitfalls about the Internet and developing technology can be frightening. We all know about 'trolls', the impish and immoral lame brained idiots who feel they can say anything on the Internet. Right now, they have freedom to harass and bully whomever they do not agree with. A few years ago, a mother from outside St. Louis, where I grew up, went on trial for posing as a fake teenager on MySpace and going after her daughter's peer because there were teenage issues over a boy (I think it was). Well, the mother, creating a fake identity, harassed this poor 14 year old girl and eventually the girl committed suicide. Disgusting if you ask me! However, this type of behavior is common nowadays. People can hide behind a computer and mask their emotion or lash out by posting, tweeting, or blogging anything at all.

Even celebrities and artists get attacked. Recently, when Lana Del Ray was on Saturday Night Live, her performance was panned by many SNL fans and other viewers of the show. Her twitter account was overrun with negative criticism. Thank goodness SNL fought back by having Kristin Wig portray Lana Del Ray and make fun of those ridiculous critics and naysayers. What the hell do these peons know? Now that anyone can write on the Internet, and seemingly gain their 15 minutes, everyone has an opinion on anything. I mean, how many people could perform on SNL period? Plus the fact that I stand up for Lana Del Ray. Not only do I think that her performance was fine, but I think she is a great artist. Her voice is like something between Kate Bush and Mazzy Starr. However, I diverge.

I know that I am sitting here sharing my own opinion, so in a way, it makes me a hypocrite. However, my friends, family, and acquaintances know that I am VERY opinionated on a great many topics and have been since I have been able to form words. I would share my opinions whether I was doing it on a blog or not.

I think technology has a great many advantages, don't get me wrong. We are more connected as a global society, health and our very livelihood has been improved, and in a sense we have loads of information at our fingertips. You can learn guitar online, learn to speak Chinese, learn how to cook Cajun food, or learn how to sew a dress. Just go on Youtube!

However, if we aren't careful, we could turn into mindless drones who hook in and tune out. We should still leave opportunity to take out the earbuds and look up from our Ipad to see the world around us. Smell a flower, look at the clouds, take a walk in the woods. I think we have become overstimulated and lose focus on the important things. We have become emotionally sterile and void of compassion for one another. We have lost certain skill sets and in time, can forget language and many other skills necessary for self-sufficiency.

In fact, what if our technological network went down for a day, a week, longer. What would happen if we couldn't use our cell phones, use the Internet, or even access the ATM? Would technology as we know it crash. How many of us know how to grow our own food, distill our own germ free water, or even start a fire. These are all skills that we NEED to know and they do not require the push of a button. We know so much because of computers, yet we know very little. I hope we stop to think what could happen if we don't read the warnings on the wall.

The next step as I see it is having chips implanted in our heads or hands that has all of our crucial information (banking, medical, etc) stored. After this happens, we become one step away from become slaves (to whom time will tell). People already use their phones to make credit card payments or store important records. In fact, my wife's aunt, who works for the IRS, saw a woman open a door with her hand. This idea of microchip technology is fascinating but it scares the SHIT out of me!

Imagine stores where you go into a dressing room trying on a red t-shirt. In the mirror, which is really a computer, you get suggestions for matching accessories or other clothing items in your size. A step further would be personalized advice for fitness and health advice because the mirror computer notices you have gained some weight. Then, there are options that appear in your phone/on a screen of places to eat that have healthy options for lunch (don't worry, your calorie count is also stored so you won't over eat). When you decide to go to the grocery store, you can scan some vegetables and see the farm they came from and get information about recipes. When you go to checkout, there is no human; a computer guides you through the process of using your phone/hand scan to make your payment. This scenario is nightmarish and horrific!

I will end with an eloquent e-mail from one of my good friends, Eli, who posed many critical questions about technology. It is ironic that he works in IT, but he is definitely thinking along the right wavelength:

"Societal cohesion has in the past been held together by common goals, common culture, and common faiths. The inner knowledge that something greater than you is watching and guiding your movements at all times helped mold and shape civilization through religion. As cultures continue their mixture in this ever shrinking world, we have lost all three of these commonalities, and thus lost our societal backbone. Since the mid 1800's man has increasingly turned away from classical religions and embraced technology as its new guiding light. Technology was new and could cross cultural boundaries relaying on common languages of math and science. It is only natural then that through technology man has tried to regain that ever presence that religion previously provided in order to hold society together. Perhaps without any conscious decision on the part of any individual, we have turned to technology for the feeling of safety that a close relationship with religion previously provided. We turn to the state to enforce civility and law and we turn to surveillance cameras to provide the all knowing eye of judgement we as humans seem to need to behave in a civil manner. We walk blissfully into a police state because we are desperately seeking some form of state, any form of state, to provide that feeling of oneness and cohesion we previously felt. The problem with technology as a religion however, is that it has no moral compass to guide it. We are building a Frakenstien's monster of laws and privacy violating systems without any soul to guide its use and limits. Is it possible to function as a people held together by constructs of law and wire rather than the three pillars of goals, culture, and faith? Only time will tell. We speak of the world changing and becoming colder, more impersonal, with the government and corporations given the ability to track our every move and yet we allow this to happen because there is a void that we need filled in our societal framework! Don't think that we as a people are more enlightened or advanced than our forefathers. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is the same game we are playing as they did, only with different labels. Only when man has the ability to think for themselves and make educated choices can this change. A healthy, well informed, critical thinking citizen that doesn't listen to news bites that are fed to them rather seeking out their own truths is the nightmare of the technological theocracy we have created. Is it any wonder that we are guided to becoming fatter, dumber, and fanatacisized over simple divisive topics that have little to no bearing on the real problems our society is currently facing? In a melting pot of cultures and histories can mankind turn to anything else besides its own creations to hold it together? We as a people need to start educating ourselves and having real dialogue with one other no matter how fun it is to put on your teams hat and vilify the 'other'. We need to find more meaningful ways to fill the societal void left in the collective and the individual when no philosophical truths can be agreed upon. I have no answers to this situation, only illumination and warnings." -Eli Houchins

While we are still in control of our own faculties and preside over technology, let's use it for good. As I write this, flying cars and cars that drive themselves are being developed as well as ways to get information easily downloaded into our very craniums. The latter is fiction as far as I know, but I'm sure it will be passe sooner than we think.

Signing out,


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