There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
— Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
“We are living in a time of history like no other.” So begins a YouTube video posted back in 2009 by Gunther Von Harringa, Sr., one of Harold Camping’s deluded disciples babbling that the second coming is going to take place this Saturday. That opening sentence is about the only kernel of truth to be found in this entire six-minute sermonette. The next words out of his mouth are that we are living at the end of time, which is just not true. Even if the world were to end on May 21, time would still march on; we just wouldn’t be around to measure it.
But we do live in a time of history like no other: I will concede Mr. Von Harringa that point. It’s why idiotic hoaxes like Harold Camping’s doomsday prediction are becoming so pervasive. Back in the days of William Miller, it wasn’t nearly as easy to incite global hysteria: we didn’t have the Internet back then, or the 24-hour news cycle, or reality television.
Perhaps it is fitting that the first message ever sent by telegraph was “What hath God wrought?” A more pertinent question would be, what has humanity wrought?
A saying of my own which I am quite fond of expressing is that there are two kinds of people: those who believe that our technology is going to turn on us someday… and those of us who realize that it already has.
There have always been doomsday prophets, corrupt politicians, and balloon boys, just as there have always been earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, plagues and just about any other natural or man-made disaster you can think of. Only before the information age, it was a lot harder to disseminate them to the mindless masses. Urban legends have long been a part of our cultural mindset: we’ve just found a way to put them on steroids.
Alas, Chuck Shepherd, the mind behind News of the Weird, once profound and prophetic, has become redundant.
In this respect, technology is largely to blame for the psychological morass our civilization has fallen into, along with its accomplice the media. I’m not just talking about FOX News, either. MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, Reuters, The Associated Press … all have sinned. Of course, they have to report on all of this, because to dismiss the hysterics opens them up to conspiracy theorists crying censorship.
Andy Warhol’s legendary prediction that “in the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes” has never been more true.
The problem is one that science fiction writers have long lamented. Technology has advanced at an alarming pace, while our ability to use it responsibly has not. A classic example of this is how humans learned to harness the power of the atom before we had developed the common sense not to weaponize it, or the fact that we can genetically engineer new diseases without learning the restraint not to unleash them. Not long after we discovered how to harness electricity, somebody invented the electric chair. Nobody in their right mind would give a child a loaded gun to play with. But even a harmless plaything such as a little leaguer’s baseball bat can be turned into a weapon by someone with the emotional immaturity to use it as such.
To paraphrase J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, we are become death, the destroyer of worlds. And the only world available for us to destroy is our own.
Technology has enabled some of the greatest evils in our society. It’s what allows terrorists to communicate with each other. It’s what has made it possible for us to destroy all life on earth a hundred times over and then some. It’s what has allowed Osama Bin Laden, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck to disseminate their insanity to those who also share in their psychoses.
The genie has been let out of the bottle, and there’s no way we’ll be able to coax it back in.
Back in the days before the Internet, geeks like me used to communicate over what we called “bulletin boards.” They were a single computer to which multiple users could connect, communicate and share information. I used to frequent a gay bulletin board where I made many “hook-ups” back in a time when it was safer to do so, because back then, only intelligent professionals had computers. Then along came AOL and CompuServe, eventually giving rise to the behemoth we call the Internet. Now everybody and his mother has a computer, and the electronic gene pool has become as muddy as the rest of civilization. While technology has made leaps and bounds, human nature has stalled, because of greed, prejudice, and resistance to change. The irresistible force has met the immovable object, and we’re still waiting to see which will win.
Don’t get me wrong: technology can be a good thing. It has found cures for disease, and given us the means to disseminate information more effectively than at any other point in human history. It’s made it possible for me to re-connect with long-lost friends from long ago, and even to rebuild a few of the bridges I’ve burned. It’s what makes this ’blog possible. Who knows what it will come up with next?
But it has gotten out of control, falling sometimes into the wrong hands. Like any other facet of humanity, it has its yin and its yang. It is a powerful force, and like the Force, it has a good side, and a dark side. Ask yourself which are you on before you click “send” or “share.” Seriously.
So what’s the answer? That’s simple: there isn’t one. We just have to brace ourselves for what will surely be a very bumpy ride.Share