The Future of Tech

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.

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18 Responses to “The Future of Tech”

  1. Living out of Eden Says:

    It’s not I’m a fan of Technology because of development, innovation and new stuff everyday. I’m a fan because since 15 years ago, technology is the main driver and I would even say ENABLER to the best changes in Society.
    New ways of working, social media, citizenship power, blogs like this, are giving freedom to the individual like never before.
    Technology and Internet will definitely change the world.
    The game has only just begun.

    • markbittner Says:

      I don’t think we’re really free—not so long as we still have attachments, passions (as opposed to convictions), and delusions. Real freedom comes about through internal struggle. No human invention or political movement can create true freedom. Here in America we once had a situation where we could have been a free people. It would have been difficult—we would have had to have made amends with the original inhabitants, that is, give them justice—but it was within our reach. But our mindset wouldn’t allow it. Instead, we opted for empire and all its accompanying neuroses.

  2. kathy Says:

    Wisely written! The ability to predict and take action based on prediction is part of wisdom, I believe. I have researched Peak Oil and it brought me to a new awaremess and since then my world has opened up: sustainable living, eating locally, eating seasonally, supporting local (cottage) industry, providing wildlife habitat, and thinking ahead, and on and on….my retirement, which is on my mind these days yet 8 years hence would involve a small house with a small garden and a well and access to local shared transportation….possibly in Europe if it doesn’t implode econimically, although even implosion may bring new fruition, so it is not out of the realm. Europe is appealing, particularly France, because local farming is still so common, as is village life, and transportation, as long as it lasts, is much more part of the infrastructure (I refer to shared transportation). Medical care is often village based, with exception of dire emergency. And, we don’t see nearly as much urban blight. Ah, escape to reality…! The interenet may die, and I will enjoy it as much as possible until then….it CAN be a fabulous learning device when not watered down, as sadly, appears to be happening over time.

    • markbittner Says:

      I know what you mean about the Internet getting watered down. I’ve been noticing that myself.

  3. Living out of Eden Says:

    I understand your point of view, but you are addressing individual freedom. I’m sure and fully agree with you in those terms, that some prisoners may be even more free than many people on the streets.
    But I’m referring to Society phenomena, to Human society as a whole.
    I’m talking about controlling our politicians, that they should do what they’ve been voted for. It shouldn’t be allowed anymore that they “translate” as they wish, people’s will.
    It’s about awareness.
    I’m sure that slavery was not enough for some slaves to feel free. But what would have they given to become actually free?

    • markbittner Says:

      This was a very common point of contention when I was growing up. Where does change begin? I’ve always been on the side of “the revolution of the mind.” We have to be a lot smarter, more disciplined, and much more aware than the politicians. As far as creating freedom and making politicians do what’s right, the Internet hasn’t done a bit of good here in the United States. The situation has only gotten worse since computers became such a big deal.

  4. joe rosas Says:

    Too true! I’ll mention i’m a fan of your blog & looking forward to your book,i
    purchased my first (second-hand,austrian,15 yr old)CD player just in time for
    2000;every time we invent a “new” machine We end up following IT,I wouldn’t
    mind going back to dial phones!

    Since the dawn of time life’s been about Survival,in the “first” world at least,
    that stopped being the case as of the late 70’s,we’ve already won our Eden,
    it’s just it has (a largely) psychological price;give up our old ways of thinking
    & understanding life,& step into the unknown:freedom is easily as harsh a mistress as slavery,life without constant comparison to others?without money
    or god or clan as a yardstick?without the liberating (from thought) adrenaline
    rush of having to scramble for (perceived) survival?in canada we literally have
    thousands of stories of people winning a(single) million dollar lottery,Losing
    Their Minds,& self-destructing.Why?because now they are no longer like
    everybody else,Alone,Different,no longer a need to work For (someone or somethingelse)& now have to come up with their Own
    understanding of why to get up in the morning,in their previous life,They
    Had To.This paradigm is one of the reasons your blog,book,& life
    experience interest me,i have the feeling you too have (as i) ,in your own way,adressed this
    question:How To Live?in the end i suspect it may be the Only question.

    Keep on rockin’!,yours sincerely,joe rosas.

  5. Living out of Eden Says:

    I’m afraid I cannot speak for the United States.
    If I have to make an assessment, I’d say you are still bearing with the assassination of JFK, not to mention more recent tragic events. I always wonder what we become by accepting so quietly these kind of human masacres.
    Truth is not easy to emerge, but we are slowly getting there.
    Keep up… If Sarkozy shuts his mouth, we will probably see it.

  6. Living out of Eden Says:

    By the way, thanks for answering my comments…

  7. Diane Says:

    I also believe that we are nearing an end to technological advancement. In addition to the end of cheap oil, which most of our recent technical advances depend on, there are also diminishing returns. After a point are we going to notice computers are faster? Will we just say no thanks, this device does enough things to make me happy and I’m tired of learning how to operate new devices?

    There is also the increasing complexity of our world. The more complex and interdependent it gets the more a small vulnerability can destroy a large portion of the system. I was driving by an enormous warehouse in the desert the other day and it occurred to me that probably every single thing for sale in all the stores in the last 200 miles went through that warehouse. What if it was destroyed?

    I’ve seen the industrial agriculture, the feedlots, the farms. We’re mining the topsoil for our crops. When the topsoil is gone, then what? How much further can we turn animals into meat machines before companies can’t squeeze anymore profits out? Are we willing to even go that far for a cheap hamburger?

    And have you seen a landfill recently? When I was a kid, a landfill was a hole in the ground. Now they are all mountains. How long can we take resources out of the system and entomb them forever, encased in plastic, unable to break down and return the resources back?

    We put a lot of faith in “green” technologies. I’ve seen the windmills all over the desert. They take up an enormous amount of land. Each individual windmill has its own access road. Trucks must be able to drive to each one and with a crane they can do repairs or replacements. There is no way to build or maintain these windmills without cheap oil. They are also very loud. You can hear them down below in the desert miles away when you are thousands of feet up a mountain. When you are near to them, they sound like planes. When the sun is behind them, they cause a flickering of the light. The pollution they cause is different but real. It’s all just centralized power like we’ve always had and doesn’t really solve anything.

    I also agree with you about the whole knowledge/power trip thing. I took a very long inward journey walking in the wilderness alone for 6 months. When I returned I was hit with a lot of culture shock. It was hard to listen to all the lies that fly around in our culture and are taken as truth. We are influenced to believe a lot of things that aren’t true. One of them is that there are things that will make us better, actually transform us. One of those things is technology. But in the end, as we chase after each thing, all we really do is allow someone to exploit our basic needs, fears and desires, deliver money to someone else and augment our collective power to destroy the environment.

    Meanwhile, out in the forests and deserts, the birds continue to sing as they always did, the ants keep marching and the 300 people walking around in the wilderness just like I did are finding it possible to communicate with each other without using the Internet and without even knowing each others’ real names. The real world is an amazing place but millions of people close enough to the wilderness their streetlights pollute the night sky will never hear those birds sing, never know what a rosy boa looks like, never feel wind blow so hard they are knocked over, never sit in a natural hot spring, never truly know anything real. But they’ll know how to press buttons really fast with their thumbs and cause pixels to shift on a screen.

    • Sarah Says:

      “I took a very long inward journey walking in the wilderness alone for 6 months. When I returned I was hit with a lot of culture shock.”

      @ Diane, what had compelled you to return to modernity?

  8. suzy Says:

    I certainly hope technological advancement slows down. I can’t & no longer want to try to keep up with it. Things are becoming obsolete too, too quickly.

    Things I like about the internet:
    Reading this blog
    Checking the weather forecast anytime

    When I first got email I was fascinated but after seeing so much abuse of email my fascination has long since faded.

    I dislike cell phones. I have one (the smallest & cheapest pkg available) but I hardly ever turn it on. It is primarily for emergencies. But the 2 times I have needed to call for help the service was overloaded & wouldn’t work. I’ve been told that there are more cell phone towers now & so that problem is less frequent. Who knows?

    My biggest complaint about cell phones is that so many people buy pkgs with a huge volume of minutes, then they feel compelled to get their money’s worth so they call & call & call yakking endlessly about nothing.

    I am about ready to follow the advice in the song Spanish Pipedream:

    Blow up your T.V. Throw away your paper.
    Go to the country. Build you a home.
    Plant a little garden. Eat a lot of peaches.
    Try an find Jesus on your own.

  9. Diane Says:

    Why did I return? I reached the end of the trail. Time to go home.

    It’s funny because I work in Web Development and yet I don’t upgrade my computer often, I don’t have an iPhone or an Android. I’m really kind of a Luddite. Trying to keep up with all that planned obsolescence really is nervous breakdown inducing. And honestly, it’s not necessity or brilliance that is driving our technology. It’s profits.

  10. Sylvia Cooley Says:

    Mark, your thoughts are really right on. So well said. It is fascinating to see this evolution of technology in every day lives taking place right in front of us over the last 15-20 years. To go from a point where no one had cell phones to teenagers who almost can’t remember life being any other way, as they madly text their friends hundreds of times every day. This is normal life to them. You might enjoy this music video my friends Cindy and Grey made about the same topic, called “Back When We Were All Machines.”


  11. Ian Says:

    I’ve always thought that people think of technology as “magic”. No one seems to consider the potentially harmful componants inside it or the fact that it runs on electricity mostly produced by old fashioned filthy coal.

    • Living out of Eden Says:

      It’s not magic.
      But nor are air conditioning, metro, airplanes, refrigerators, cars, elevators, and everything that makes our lives easier and much more comfortable.
      We don’t have to be afraid of Technology for it will only be what we make of it. Goodness and evil are inside of us, not in the electricity itself.

    • markbittner Says:

      I’m not afraid of technology. I’m tired of it. All these modern conveniences entail trade offs. Ease and comfort, while seductive, are extremely expensive in the long run, unsustainably so. And they have created a world of sleepy souls. Ease and comfort do not lead to any kind of inner strength, which is sorely lacking these days. I’ll say again that I don’t believe we should junk all of it. Most of it, though. We’re going to have to anyway, whether we want to or not.

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