Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wired to the machine

Recently, my boss told me about his visit to Bill Gates' home in Washington. In a somewhat amazed tone, he first described the size, which in width spanned about five lots wide. The square footage was rumored to be around 50,000 feet (with heating and cooling costs at around one million per year, no doubt; he's certainly not concerned about his carbon footprint). When you walk through the front door there are giant LCD's illuminating the walls. Those change, apparently, according to your tastes in music, history, and art - if you have a chip placed on your lapel which signals to the network of myriad displays what your profile of interests are. I happened to be reading through the current edition of PC magazine at the time which looks backwards at the last 25 years, as well as forward into the next several, with all the most influential computer minds discussing their take on things. I don't have the issue in front of me, but overwhelmingly, of course, the message is more, better, faster, more convenient.

Today, when I look in the technology news online people are still devising robots to run around the house vacuuming up and sorting our various useless items and picking things up off of the coffee table for us so we can stay focused and wired in once we are wired out from work all day long.

Yesterday I read another article about how everything was going to be wired to be wireless. And some exec. at Microsoft eagerly boasted that we were already becoming cyborgs because of the way we are wired in to our computing devices. Unfortunately, he meant it literally. This brings to mind a few bad images of Jean Claud Van Damme in Universal Soldier, flailing about in the post-apocalyptic movie Cyborg, or Peter Weller chasing bad guys down the street with huge guns in RoboCop. What is it with our fascination with robots, anyway, and why do we aspire to integrate with them more, in fantasy and actuality? Is it their mechanical perfection or our preoccupation with control and security? Does it occur to anyone where any of this is supposed to be heading, besides towards more convenience and productivity? With cameras on every street corner, and our cars, cell phones, and even instant weather reports networked together through satellite 24 hrs a day, the world remains housed in its bubble of safety and predictability.

As Cyborg Nation pushes forward, breaking new barriers in both technology and fascination with the stupid, one has to step back and marvel a bit at the drunken fashion in which we stagger towards the blinking lights and gadgetry without much attention to the bigger picture. Technology has mostly had a snowball effect upon itself; as we unconsciously suit it towards our more immediate desires of consumption and convenience, the social and ecological effects of our excess continue to remain under-scrutinized, though nevertheless nagging problems. Nevermind that we are reaching the threshold of keeping the machine running because we are actually maxing everything out. Will it be that we have burnt everything up and society implodes under the ashes or will all that burning up create an inhospitable climate that necessitates an end to it?

At what point does the wizard step out from behind the curtain and start handing out hearts and minds and lead us back to Kansas? If only technology could give us a pair of red magical slippers. I suppose they might just call it at some point "uploading consciousness".

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