"Technology Forever" by Jerome Tuccille
This is a chapter from Tuccille's book, "Paradise Found: A
Technology and revolution. At first glance the words do not sit well together, and yet our "dehumanizing" technology may transform the dream of an open-ended, mass-market, "people's" paradise into a living reality. Technology may well be the factor that brings the revolution to a close.
This is ironic, in a way, since the people with the greatest vested interest in revolutionary change have been the most vocal opponents of the new technology. The "professional" revolutionists among us have been strutting around the countryside wailing against our "love affair with machines," our "obsession with growth and progress," conjuring apocalyptic visions of a Doomsday Society over-peopled, over-polluted, over-mechanized, visions of a gutless humanity with the heart and brains bred out of it, capable only of stumbling trance-like into the future, hurtling mindlessly toward certain oblivion. By and large, our Doomsayers have been clamoring for a return to an idyllic past which never existed in reality, a green, halcyon, agricultural fairyland where everyone can play flutes under the trees, swim in rivers of May wine strewn with strawberries, and grab each other's buttocks as they roll naked among the wildflowers. Strangely enough, these seventeenth-century wonderlands are always devoid of such tacky annoyances as red ants, poison ivy, snapping turtles, and coldspells. Nature is always kind, the month is always May, and the weather is always balmy in Dreamland. Somehow feudalism, poverty, disease, and hunger – all of which were rampant in the pre-industrial economy – have vanished into
Well all this is very pretty, very romantic, and very unrealistic. If we are going to have our paradise on earth it will only be by harnessing our technology, by controlling it totally and making it subservient to our own desires – not by abandoning it to the Wasteland of history. For it is only technology which can tidy up the mess we have already made, provide us with the clean environment we all want, free us of the tyrannies of hunger, poverty, disease, and death, and deliver a genuine paradise on earth. Also, it is only technology that can remove one of the final barriers between us and the anarchic or democratic ideal: the tyranny of isolation, alienation, and provincialism.
Perhaps the greatest enemy of a universal utopia is the distrust and intolerance of our fellow man bred by provincialism. Throughout history the human race has been sectioned off in hamlets, villages, towns, and nation-states. We have lived in little pockets of ignorance, each one surrounded by an iron wall of stupidity, suspicion, and superstition. Human ostriches, we buried our heads in the sterile sands of fear and security, and regarded everything different as a threat to our existence. Foreigners, communists, atheists, easterners, dwarfs, and one-eyed lepers were all prime candidates for the gas chamber. Better dead than red – or queer, or short, or swarthy – has been the warcry of every narrow-minded hick from the olive fields of ancient Greece to the flat and dreary cornfields of middle America.
And yes, nationalism is nothing more than provincialism run amuck.
My flag is brighter than yours, my skin lighter than yours, my God stronger than yours, my President nobler than yours, my town cleaner than yours, my tribe more sacred than yours, my country/town/village/tribe right or wrong. God, of course, is always on my side. The Old Fool is on everyone's side – tbe Germans, Italians, Americans, Japanese, Outer Mongolians, and Tanzanians – even as they hack each other's arms off and bomb an industrious citizenry somewhere back to the Stone Age.
(While behind the scenes of history the Billy Grahams of the world give the whole fiasco their blessings, tossing fuel onto an already raging inferno. How nice to snuggle warmly in the White House praying for the safety of one American emperor after another. It is much more sensible to prance about in double-knit suits and diamond pinky rings than to share a jailcell with a claque of unwashed subversives.)
("So it goes," said Kurt Vonnegut when he saw what was happening.)
Provincialism (nationalism on a smaller scale) is synonomous with ignorance, and the most dangerous thing about ignorance is that the damned condition is contagious. It breeds more fear, suspicion, petty (if not cowardly) heroics, and all this inevitably results in violence. Get them – hippies, commies, freaks, and un-Americans – before they get us. Before they sneak in our homes at night and rape our daughters, poison our sons with drugs and loud music, chop us up in our beds, and desecrate the American flag. Before they piss on the American dream. Hunter Thompson, Ken Kesey, and Fidel Castro all belong on the torture rack. Crucifixion is too good for them.
As long as this infectious condition exists (and it is a global disease; the American strain is only a bit more pronounced because of a certain native flamboyance), paradise will remain at best a distant dream; at worst we will usher in the Apocalypse instead, replete with man-made volcanos, faster-than-light warships, and a race of human gargoyles manufactured on demand in genetic engineering laboratories throughout the solar system.
But how to fight provincialism, isolation, and ignorance? Certainly not with guru chants, May wine, and love beads. And not by turning the earth into a global village, notwithstanding the worthy exhortations of Messers. McLuhan, Fuller, and Company. Herman Kahn is more on target when he speaks in terms of a global metropolis. In the past it has been in the cities where the civilized life has flourished, where the pristine hillbilly has been miraculously transformed into a tolerant, urbane, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan World Citizen. It is in the cities where provincialism (and ignorance) are beaten down and drummed out of existence. It is in the cities where music, literature, art, civility – all the worthwhile
things of life – have found their voice, come into their own, and been rendered into magic.
How to end provincialism? By destroying the provinces and, with them, the provincial mentality. By making the earth a global city, a world metropolis, a universal seedbed of the civilized life, a paradise, a region of supreme felicity and delight.
A city is a state of consciousness, a condition of life. No proclamation or political act can make a village into a city – except on paper. A city is a state of mind, and this is where technology comes in.
The cement that holds the city together, that gives it its status and identity, is the technology of communications. As this technology evolved from hand-scrawled, hand-delivered letters to the printing press, the telephone, the telegraph, radio and television, and now to global satellites, the cities also grew up, grew more efficient and sophisticated, and finally reached a point where they are ready to burst through their boundaries, explode and self-destruct with uncontrollable energy.
They can no longer be contained but, rather, need room to expand and flesh out the universe.
For the first time in human history we have the technology at hand to create our global metropolis, obliterate the provinces, and deliver paradise to the entire world. For something like six dollars and seventy-five cents on weekends and after eight o'clock in the evening, the most isolated rube in South Dakota can pick up his telephone and contact his counterpart in Samoa, Mozambique, and the Australian outback. There is still a language barrier, to be sure, and there will be for quite some time to come, but at least the physical barriers isolating one community from another (the westside of Manhattan from Ringoes, New Jersey for that matter) have been overcome.
These relatively inexpensive round-the-world telephone calls are possible only if the telephones are working in the first place. Vandalism has transmogrified most of our public telephone booths – especially in the larger cities – into little more than urban outhouses, but Mother Bell is reportedly working on a system to change all that. In the near future we will be carrying portable telephones around with us. The phones will be activated when we step inside circular electromagnetic fields created by the telephone company, and the calls will be billed to credit cards or our home telephone numbers.
Hopefully the electromagnetic "phone booths" will continue to function no matter how many times they are urinated on.
Fantastic as this concept sounds, it is only the next step in a long string of advances Bell has in store for us. Also in the planning stage are cassette telephones for sending messages to many people simultaneously; self-dialing telephones that respond to a voice command; wristwatch telephones which will bring us another step beyond the Dick Tracy two-way wrist radio; home sentinel telephones which will inform us of fires, burglaries, and other extraordinary occurrences while we are away; picture phones, already being used commercially, for the home (the more advanced models will supply printed pictures of the screen image); credit phones allowing the caller to order merchandise and pay bills without leaving bed; and the list grows longer and longer even as we pause a moment to catch our breath. What all this translates into is the fact that instantaneous global communication grows more and more commonplace as time goes on: provincial barriers (and, hopefully, attitudes) are broken down as the world becomes a single, dynamic, interrelating community. Words such as foreign, alien, strange, different, and enemy lose their meaning when we are all citizens of the same global society.
Notwithstanding the dire predictions of Marshall McLuhan, the printed word is destined to play an even more important role in the Electronic Society than it does today. The book publishing industry will be
modernized and wrenched out of the nineteenth century where it has been wallowing for the past one hundred and seventy-plus years. Through microfiching, more than a hundred books can be imposed on a four-by-six inch plastic card. Instead of visiting mammoth bookstores with sturdy volumes toppling off the shelves – bookstores incapable of storing the forty-thousand books published in the United States alone each year – we will go to microfiching libraries capable of storing any number of printed words in a comparatively small area. If you want a certain book you simply visit the nearest library or "bookstore," and computerized machines will print it out and bind it for you in minutes. This will save the publisher a boodle in production costs since he will no longer have to manufacture and distribute thousands of books beforehand (and worry about remainders afterward), and it relieves the bookseller of the guesswork regarding which book should be ordered and kept in stock.
(The only casualties under this system will be the authors, themselves, who glory at the sight of their own books prominently displayed near the cash register when they walk into Brentano's. Perhaps advertising posters will provide the same balm for ruptured egos.)
Super phones and instant books. What else will our global cosmopolitan paradise have to offer? Well electronic newspapers are also on the horizon. Gone forever is (or will be soon) the sweaty romanticism of the Hunyonesque reporter, his filthy fedora jauntily angled on the back of his head, the constant cigarette working in the corner of his mouth as he taps out an "'exclusive" on a typewriter built during the early years of the Middle Ages. Yes, Jimmy Breslin could be the last of a dying breed while the Tom Wolfes of the profession neatly make the transition into the razzle-dazzle kaleidescopic future. Video typewriters transmitting news stories directly to production via computerized phototypesetting equipment. Features written and edited electronically and transformed into newsprint without once having been tainted by human hands. The whole industry streamlined beyond recognition as newsrooms lose their cluttered hustle-bustle atmosphere and assume the aspects of a tile and chrome-plated, self-service cafeteria.
(Ah, nostalgia! You prick the psyche with guilt-inducing memories. You fill the dismal past with romanticized fantasy. You distort reality. To hell with nostalgia! We are determined to plunge guiltlessly and ruthlessly into the future.)
Our paradise of instantaneous universal communications (hence, of the
constant Here and Now; of the ubiquitous unifying Media) will also offer copier equipment, courtesy of Xerox, 3M, Hitachi, et al, designed to transcend even the time zones. Yes, Time the Tyrant may soon be emasculated and disemboweled as the newest telecopiers enable us to send printed matter, including photographs, around the earth by telephone in a matter of seconds. In living color yet!
The boob tube also promises to make communications easier with juke box or cable cassette TV bringing dozens – eventually hundreds – of programs into the home simply by dialing a number. Or, if you can't wait until you get home, you will be able to tune in Lawrence Welk on a wrist TV set, now technologically feasible with the development of tiny silicone circuit "'picture tubes."
(A nightmare filled with legions of lobotomized robots parading through the streets, their eyes forever glued to the image of the Beverly Hillbillies sparkling on their wrists? Or a paradise of peace, erudition, and urbanity through the magic of universal communication? A tricky dilemma. And a copout for this author who hypocritically lampoons the herd even as he urges it on toward the plastic, silicone, kandy-colored, tangerine-flake future.)
Yes I, too, will benefit in a paradise of talking textbooks. How comfortable to do one's research from home by dialing the local library and having a computer read selected pages of books and magazines, and to store all sorts of irrelevant material in lithium niobate "filing cabinets" the size of a sugar cube. No more overflowing metal cabinets which threaten to drive the researcher from his apartment.
And so we humble ourselves before the altar of technology. Almighty Technology, deliver us from our sins and bring us to the Promised Land. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. On earth. Live and reign among us, in paradise on earth, forever and ever, amen.