The blessings and curses of technology, whether we applaud or despair, need to be understood. Especially important is what technology does to our thinking, our consciousness, relations to others and to ourselves. While we may think of robotics and computers or satellites as the current metaphor for what is high-tech, the fact is that ordinary concepts such as the idea of history, how we listen, how we judge beauty and age and the quality of life, are heavily influenced by technology.
Technology, in my view, is what extends the human body. Obvious technology, like the telephone, extends us beyond this place, outside of what is here, beyond the visual and auditory range of ordinary experience. The accompanying fact of human experience is that we do not talk to one another in the same space. “Telephonese” is a special language by which we imagine one another visually, believing that there is someone on the other end. The result is that we create a social network which stands outside of the communities of those with whom we live and work.
Obvious technology, such as writing, takes some dynamic stuff such as talk, which is a muscular vibration of air waves, and makes it appear to be permanent; outside of the time of talk, outside of you talking to me. Writing permits us to talk to everyone, even to those who are not yet born. Before writing, in the pre-literate human society from which we derive, the notion of history was also negotiated through actual people, and their memories of others, up to five generations.
Now, with writing, we have actual records of several thousand years from some here-and-now of experience, to eras, to eons, to foreverness. With photography, we have two-dimensional images of what the three-dimensional. With movies and video, we create actuality out of 35mm and video, HD, and we relate to the community of others by means of movies and television.
Sitting alone or alone in theaters with others around us, we relate to some general stories or concepts. Now with some history of movies and of videos we can study the nature of aging, and be thrust into history through the power of visuality. We see through lenses, see by artificial light, and sleep when it suits us – not when the sun goes down. We listen to radios and stereos, amazed sometimes by what we hear, but we are not sufficiently amazed to study electronics.
We do not often remember that our music is all played on high-tech instruments: that the violin string is ordinarily under several hundred pounds of tension, that the modern violin bow is not so very old. Having been 35,000 feet in the air, traveling at speeds 100 times faster than our bodies can move, we have seen the earth from afar, and it has changed our vision!
As long as our bodies seem relatively still, we do not thrill to the speeds of cars, trains or planes. Yet they have altered the size and scope of the earth. We can now imagine the entire globe, but we do not have very good ways of imagining all of its peoples. We thrill more to the animals of the natural kingdom, and seem to worry more about “all” the world’s people.
Technology: wonderful, musical. Real as the pen that I use to write, and the glasses through which I look to see. Sitting here alone, I abstract from my experience to yours, and we meet in the courting of the printed symbols, to remake them into our minds’ workings. We are together in some sense of understanding, and increasingly alone in our experience.
Here we are: all together alone.