In my previous post, I wrote about the extent of my involvement with computers. It’s not that I’m a tech enthusiast. I’m not. In fact, I believe that the modern world’s devotion to technology has gotten way out of hand and is causing great harm. I wrote that post so that readers would know that I’m not simply some Luddite writing from my cave.
A lot of people believe that humanity is merely at the beginning of a period of great advancement, and it’s all due to the glories of technology. The age of science and industry goes back something like 150 years, and I think we’re actually nearer its end than its beginning. I have two reasons for believing this. One is that we’ve entered an era of resource and energy depletion (not to mention climate change), which is due to our profligate use of those resources. It’s going to make it impossible to continue with the fantasy. The other reason is spiritual, or, if you prefer, psychological. The world is rapidly approaching the point of nervous breakdown.
As for the first reason—I’ve written about the Peak Oil theory elsewhere on this blog. Everything the theory describes seems to be coming true. There is no question as to whether or not we’re going to run out of oil one day. There’s only so much. The question has always been when. But Peak Oil says that it isn’t so much a matter of running out of oil as it is the growing expense (both financially and ecologically) of extracting the harder-to-get oil. Our economy is built on the assumption that there will always be cheap oil, which is impossible. And when resources become truly scarce, where will we put them? Into information technology and consumer gadgets? Or into the growth and transportation of food? You can’t eat information. Current agricultural practices use petroleum products to run farm machinery, make fertilizer, build and maintain the roads that transport the food, fuel the trucks that haul it, create the electricity for refrigeration, and more. At the moment, we have enough electrical power to maintain the enormous grid of servers that keeps the Internet running. But we’re not going to be able to maintain that situation indefinitely. From what I read, even if we could solve the safety and waste issues, nuclear power can’t really do what its supporters say it does. A lot of people believe that the free market can solve the issue. But the faith in free markets is wishful thinking. The old game—constant economic growth—was a bubble, and it’s gone forever.
When I was growing up I used to see articles on how the coming revolution in automation was going to create a huge problem for us: What to do with all that leisure time? But, of course, that’s not what happened. The leisure time bit was just a selling point. They’ve been piling on the work, and the pace of daily life has been sped up to a point that it far exceeds anything that’s natural and healthy. That which is unnatural and unhealthy is unsustainable. They keep making more gadgets that we don’t really need whose ultimate affect is diversion—diversion from boredom. None of these devices really satisfy. We have not become smarter, healthier, kinder, or closer on account of it. No machine can bring about a greater sense of well-being. I know that perfectly well from experience. Anybody who pushes this idea, if he really believes it, is out of touch with reality.
I often hear people describe some new gadget as “magical.” But they are not magic. Magic is where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. With machines, the whole exactly equals the sum of the parts. An example: You can program a machine to play a piece of music exactly in tempo, no missed notes, etc., but the resulting music will not be magic. When I was a musician I would occasionally reach a place where something extra came into play. It was like the music was playing me rather me playing the music. It always astonished me, and it was something the audience could feel as well. That’s magic, and it comes from a place that no machine can access. It’s the place that makes life worth living.
The tech trip is a knowledge trip. But there’s something more important than knowledge: wisdom. And that’s what we’re here to find. Most people doubt this, I think. We’ve become so involved with gaining knowledge (or information) and money that we don’t see anything else. We don’t even know what wisdom is. Technically, it’s seeing cause and effect on down to the most subtle levels in the here and now. The only way to see with that kind of clarity is to take the inner journey. But a culture that believes that the only thing you’ll find within yourself is blood vessels, bone, and nerve endings won’t take the trip. Still, technology cannot continue to be the dominant force in our lives. We’ll die of boredom. It’s starting to break down, though, and as it does, we’ll have no choice but to look for that which goes deep. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing.
Two last things: I’m not saying we drop technology entirely. We have such a dualistic mindset that whenever you criticize tech there will be someone who says, “What do you want to do? Go back to the Stone Age?” We should integrate what is truly useful and makes sense to keep. But in a sane world, there wouldn’t be that much. I think it was Gary Snyder who responded to someone’s “What do you want to do? Go back to the Stone Age?” remark with “No, but I wouldn’t mind going back to, say, the 1950s.” He was joking. But it makes the point. And for those who will say, “You’re here using a computer and the Internet. Aren’t you being kind of hypocritical?” I’m here because this is where the camp fire is right now and I want to speak to people. But I intend to make my way back to reality as soon as the way is clear. It’s healthier and it’s where you meet your real friends.