What’s it going to be, Plissken? Them or us?
I shut down the third world, you win they lose. I shut down America, they win you lose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Snake Pliskin and the President – Escape from L.A.
Some things are inherently simple, some things we make more complicated, some things we forget all together. Technology… one of the unique qualities we humans have is our development and usage of technology. From the first time we learned how to create fire we have learned how to depend on our technology for survival. Over the ages, across time, the single constant we know is our ever increasing dependency on technology. Unfortunately too much of a good thing is always harmful. Many feel technology will elevate and evolve us far beyond where and what we currently are. It would be nice if this were true but it isn’t.
I have been on some interesting cross country adventures in this country that have shown me our reliance on technology is not a completely positive circumstance. Let’s take fire for instance. The one technological break through that brought us from the trees and caves to where we are today. How many ways, utilizing low tech methods, can you name to start a fire? Flint and steel, friction, steel wool and batteries, matches, magnifying glass, sparking two rocks together. These are only methods to generate a spark, not start a fire. Starting to see where I am coming from? Fires need to start small, with smaller dry materials and once the catch the larger and larger sticks and eventually logs. A good camp fire will take a dedicated hour of work to be useful. Something we take for granted; warmth, heat to cooking, light to chase away the darkness and fend off our natural predators.
There are many other areas I could dive into. The main reason to bring this up is we have become too dependant on the modern technology we surround ourselves with. This is for obvious reasons. We have become addicted to our technology; in the military, civilian, and even scientific arenas. How can be addicted? When was the last time we got up to change the channel on our TV, or left it on one channel for the entire evening? Went on an errand without a cell phone or pda? Went a week without checking email? Drove the car to a distance well within walking distance? Only purchase and eat microwaved foods? Basically we are losing touch with our lives. At this stage a terrorists only needs to disrupt our technology to cripple our society. Knocking out power, water, or satellite communications would achieve a catastrophic societal blow that would crash our political system and society as we know it.
Our military, and those around the world have become information junkies, do not get me wrong, they have always been this was, as the force with the fastest and most accurate information gathering will always win. However as this shift into real-time information acquisition increases we have downsized, de-armored, and shortened the training of our soldiers. Why is this bad? We have a false sense of superiority and security in our information gathering and dissemination. If anything is apparent over the past 3 years it is this; battlefields are fluid, and information is important, but not as important as knowing your enemy and being able to anticipate their next moves. I thought it odd that the advent of missiles had meant to naval and air warfare. Skill, cunning, counter-offensives, and force placement used to dictate the winner in naval and air battles of old, giving those in them honor and prestige worthy of songs. Today it is all been reduced to video game type action. Pixels on a screen representing people, equipment, and objectives is what our fighting forces see today. We have taken war and reduced it to something twelve year olds across the planet do everyday on computer and console games. We have de-personalized war, taken the human cost and involvement out of the equation. By doing this we have made it easier to send our soldiers into harms way. We have forgotten the true horrors of war, the intimate emotions and rage that makes it what it is, pure chaos and destruction. We shoot missiles at each other and then anti-missile missiles at incoming missiles all from bunkers miles away from any real danger. This is dangerous and will increase the likelihood of conflicts as war will become a contest of who can afford and asorb the most damage will win. Where is the honor and sense of justice and national feeling of pride over a won battle?
I am not proposing we return to caves and days before this wondrous age we live in, I do enjoy it, I have become intoxicated and maybe a bit spoiled buy it also. I am aware, however that it can all come crashing down and the results will be the ugliest moment in our history. One interesting recent series of events that should have served as wake-up calls were treated as less then snooze button pressing events; Y2K, sun flares knocking out satellite communications for 2 days, power grid collapse in the Midwest, identity theft and other cyber-crimes. If any of these actual events were to happen for a sustained amount of time those affected would fall into complete chaos. The point here is we need to remember how it was to live without the technology we take for granted each and every day. We need to learn how to build a camp fire, cook food without electricity, communicate with pen and paper or face to face. We should know how to be entertained without relying on electricity. We should learn how to cope when our normal day to day things are no longer working. On-line banking, bottled water, on-demand entertainment, instant gratification gadgets are all nice, but we have to remember they are luxuries and things that are not necessary or relevant to live or live happy. Technology that improves our lives is great, but the cost should not include the knowledge and intamacy of how to do tasks in the low-tech way. If the technology makes our lives easier, superceeds the current way of doing the task, and is capible of being implemented in a minimal environment then great, forgot how to do the old way. GPS is great and a little fun at times, it should never be relyed on to replace the magnetic compas and map however. Turning on the weather report is nice, but looking out the window will yield almost as accurate forcasts.
We are increasingly building walls around ourselves separating us from the outside world, and our fellow inhabitants. We need to seriously look into how bad our lives would be if all we have learned to take for granted were suddenly taken away. There is something to be said for low-tech approaches. Writing on a manual typewriter requires much more concentration the using a word processor. The gratification of building something out of our own two hands. The personal touches we are missing by frequenting our banks and talking to the people our patronage employs. The ability to read a book and enjoy an afternoon without anything invented within the past 75 years.