I had a Neil Postman moment today. At dinner, talking about technology, about artificial intelligence, my first thought was not how amazing or how wonderful AI is but about the unforeseen negative consequences of radical advances in such technology. Postman eschewed television, particularly network news, his whipping boy, because of just such thoughts. Because of our cultural worship of technology, few of us actually consider the consequences of technological advances until it’s too late.
Looking past my friend and over my Mongolian chicken, I considered the automobile. What utility and even beauty they have, what wonderful extensions of who we are, and yet how they have changed us. They have isolated us from our environment. Cocooned inside, we move through natural and social landscapes with barely a thought of our surroundings.
I need a convertible, to better get in touch with nature and myself, I think. This morning I saw a bluebird light on a telephone poll, greeted a man just arriving to clear the land on which houses will be built, waved at Tony, who was on “round two” with his more active dog, felt the rise and fall of the land, noticed the cracks in the sidewalk, remembered walking our children to school. In a car I would have missed most of that.
What Postman said was prescient: “To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple.” And that was in the Seventies. I had a gold Camaro then.
Actually, I love cars. All I’m saying is that before adopting technology, we better know what it’s doing to us, better hold it lightly.