Friday, November 8, 2013

What is going on here!?

I turn on my computer first thing in the morning and read messages that come to me from different parts of the world, I read the news (with instantaneous updates), check up on my Facebook “friends”,  make new links with “Linked-in”associates.  What enables me to do all this? – I am using a device that I absolutely do not understand at all.  I know it is all about transistors, The Cloud, modems, cables and networks...  I joke that the Google search-engine has become an extension of my own brain.  I know it works – I know how to make it function  –  I even know how to correct certain problems... But I have no hint of a foggy what the thing is doing.  Does it strike you as strange that we live an increasing part of our life in a virtual world of instant connections?  I like it, I depend  on it, I use it for meaningful work, communication, and entertainment....But I feel that my computer and I have a strange relationship. What is going on here!? 

Early technology - prop driven DC-6

Then I started thinking about all the other technology in my life – Mind you I love it all – I love the comfort and convenience that it brings to me.  We have two cars (one isn’t enough) to whisk us where we want to go – and all I have to do is to keep my car happy is to provide it with gasoline, periodic checkups, and air in the tires.  I happily go down the road without a thought of how the chemical potential energy of the gasoline is converted into the kinetic energy that takes me where I want to go.  It is however strange that I have such little idea of how catalytic converters, piston compression ratios, and differential gear systems operate and how they interrelate...and also strange that I accept my car without thinking of the these things.   I just go on in blind ignorance listening to my music and news as I drive down the road.

Cars in BayArea Traffic...

When television replaced radio as the leading home entertainment that was big – Imagine being able to see something like a movie come into your own home!  Then color was added to the image, then you could watch movies on tape, then on disc, then cable TV brought us more dependable signals and a greater range in programming to be seen on their large wall mounted flat screen TVs.  Some people selected satellite “dishes” to receive their programming... Now program selection has  expanded to specialty programs like TIVO. And is this to watch high value education learning opportunities? – No a surprising number of people use this high technology to watch innocuous situation comedies – with canned laugh tracks!  Do I understand even 1/1000 of this vast system that brings me such clarity and such choices... No not in the least

Some of the highest technology we had on our farm

I could go on and on...
Our vast urban infrastruce of gas, electricity, and water... its there when we need it – that’s enough.
Simple things like digital telephone systems, digital cameras, electronic copy machines, Global Positioning units have replaced maps and they even talk to me...
Dont even get me started on the medical, pharmacological network that keeps us healthy!
... and I'm scared to even mention the world financial system -

Off in the distance, from our farm,  we could see the Union Pacific trains go by - 

I grew up in a much simpler world – our farm in NE Kansas was in tune with the slow predictable cycle of the seasons.  Each season has its own beauty and challenges.  Tasks that needed to be done were tangable... the planting, harvesting, care of animals, milking, eggs to gather, maintenance of equipment and the farm buildings.  
On the other hand - Medical care was provided by a country doctor with no antibiotics and limited resources.  Seaonally there were storms, mud, snow drifts, mosquitos, vast amounts of seasonal work...
But there was time for quiet talking with friends and neighbors. Time to offer support or to share a funny story...
Still the smells of the earth, the birds of the air, the towering Kansas clouds were omnipresent.

The earth and its beauty
Am I reminiscing to return to a past that no longer exists.  No,  I like my technological world but I am immensely pleased that I had the living experiences of knowing another world too.  This may be a reason why I enjoy trips into nature – to my mountains and quiet seashore – a time and place to remind me that another world still exists. I feel it when we visit  in the rural areas of the developing world - places not as  technologically dependent as the Bay Area.

Village Blacksmith in Tanzania -early technology

I happily accept each computer update that comes my way - and am lured into buying ever new and better technology as it is developed... But part of me asks - what is this doing to me as a person?  Am I becoming more human or less?

Zoltan Kodaly, the Hungarian composer,  said in 1966: "Our age of mechanization leads along a road ending with man himself as a machine. Only the spirit of singing can save us from this fate."  What can I do, what can we do to affirm our humanity?   Will Homo Sapiens reconnect with our basic humanity or will we become more like the machines we love? 

A small part of our vast interrelated global transport system : Oakland CA