Some time ago, I found myself thinking about all our amazing technical advances – especially those that beg moral questions- and I began a journey that changed the way I approach technology, and changed how I think of humanity… and headphones.
“Should we be doing that?” I thought.
Should we be cloning humans? Developing implantable chips, artificial intelligence or nano-technology that may some day advance beyond our control? Will our technology unquestionably remain at our service? Will it’s advance really improve our odds of survival, or will it just change it?
Is technology good?
Virtually every really bad doomsday movie launched from this string of questions. But even so, there are few certainties in life. Death being one. And, I need to add one other absolute certainty to that short-list:
– Man-made technology fails.
I have never used a technology that was perfect. It always breaks – it always reveals vulnerabilities – it always, always fails at some point. The safety features have safety features, and yet they still experience absolute breakage and miscalculation, and breeches, and failures. We humans have never- ever – created a technology that does not ultimately fail in totality.
Oh, and headphones suck.
When I was 12 I got my first Walkman. That’s back when it was the Walkman. If your family owned a B&W TV, then I bet you remember this moment too – trying it in the store and putting those small headphones to your ears and being stunned at the audio quality. It really was rich and vibrant. A huge improvement over the big ostrich egg headphones of the previous decade. A few weeks ago it occurred to me that the headphones I have attached to my computer today are roughly identical to the pair that came bundled with my Walkman in the early 80s. Actually, my new ones are a little clunkier. That was almost 30 years ago. 30 years.
I mean, I see people walking down the street today with headphones on, wires dangling, twisted, draped into some inner pocket, and the whole thing looks so ..a-really-long-time-ago-ish. Definitely not futuristic. Definitely not the audio equivalent of, say, the iPhone. Oh, so now you can shove them in your ear. Hi-tech.
And then there’s the blocky blinky blue wireless light that the really important high-powered executives opt for. Cyborg Lawyering their way through lunch. As an aside – is there anything more passively annoying than those guys that leave their little blinky Bluetooth headsets hanging over their ears when they’re not even talking to anyone? Eesh. It’s always guys in suits with the WSJ. The look-at-my-cell-phone-attached-to-my-belt-guy, ten years later. “No no, you look really cool.”
Anyway, then I read about a chip that could be implanted into my tooth, like a filling, and this chip would receive a WiFi signal, vibrate my jaw bone, which is very, very close to my inner ear, and I would hear crystal clear music, and make invisible phone calls. My first thought was that the brand “Bluetooth” was wasted on the current state, and that blinky, blue teeth might be kind of cool at a concert. But my second thought was that this type of implant must be the inevitable advancement of headsets – the shedding of a “thing” that I need to carry altogether. And maybe that’s still right. Seems like a logical progression. I mean, I would never do it, but I’m a technical immigrant. My son, who was born the same month as the first iPhone? He will, despite my protests.
And that’s where these two strings reconnect for me – that chip in your tooth is going to go bad. Or worse – maybe some complete ass with a good sense of humor decides to hack it. You know, hacking isn’t something you can stop. If it is decided that a thing should be hacked, it will be. And someone will most certainly wish to hack all the literal blueteeth that all the futurey people use to listen to their iThings. I imagine a large percentage of the population suddenly doubling over in pain as that scene from Superman The Movie involuntarily blasts through their jaws. “Only one thing alive with less than four legs can hear this frequency, Superman…”
My son will still get one. …and yeah, that was Lex Luthor.
But this thread caused me to realize that all of this – is inevitable. Technical development does not stop. It can’t, because it’s flawed. Or rather, we are. And we have to fix it, or us rather. Because technological development is an inexorable part of being human – a primal, fundamental outgrowth of tool-use, our instinctual drive to decrease pain and seek pleasure as a means to survival – linked to our very biology. Our minds are tools that we can’t turn off or put away, and with reason, and with creativity, comes the ability to envision improvements in our condition. It’s not limited to culture or time.
We all contribute to the advance of technology – with every thermostatic adjustment, every new pair of shoes, and how much Air makes them soft enough? – we continuously try to improve our condition through the use of our tools, no matter where on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs we sit. It is the very basis of human existence, and our life’s activity until death, and if only we could put that off a little longer, and then maybe a little longer still, and you quickly find yourself wondering where all the advancement ends.
At what point have we achieved perfection, such that no further technical development is necessary? Incidentally, the answer to that can be found embedded deeply in virtually every religion.
When we live forever, in eternally-increasing ecstasy. The ideal state. Then we’ll be done.
Until we reach that state of being – you know, we will always see room for improvement in our current technology.
Can we stop the advancement of technology? To consider such an idea is to contemplate the end of humanity. There is no line separating human from technology. And there is no line separating technical advancement from survival of the individual, or the species.
As we survive, we use technology. As we imagine, we advance technology.
Should we be doing that? I don’t think we have a choice. The advance of technology is a law of humanity.
Technology is not good or bad. It is us.