Technology is not the future
When the 19th century American author Henry David Thoreau heard the comment “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas,” he responded, “It may be that Maine and Texas have nothing important to communicate.”
I, too, may have doubts about what information needs to be communicated. The hope, then as now, is that the knowledge of our shrinking world will make life more understandable.
We may be the first generation to live with something close to an empirical view of the origins of the universe.
Scientists can now measure the cosmic radiation left over from the so-called “Big Bang,” which occurred some 15 billion years ago.
We are now making contact with the beginnings of time, space and matter, and such discoveries should give all people a common narrative about our global world.
Such a common narrative will surely change our worldview.
Throughout history, the transmission of information, ideas and images took place slowly, sometimes requiring generations, even centuries, to move around the world.
For example, it required 12 days for the news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination to reach London, England.
Such a slow pace of information gave people time to adjust to the new information environment.
Today we zap information across the globe in nanoseconds, giving us little to no time to adjust and no time to shape new information into any coherent meaning.
Editors of the Wall Street Journal recently argued that the flood of so much information washing across the country is the primary cause of increased isolation and withdrawal.
The computer giant Intel is installing computers capable of dizzying speeds of one teraflop (one trillion calculations a second), and there are plans for computers capable of 10 teraflops and even 100 teraflops.
There is even talk of terabytes – a unit of measurement for data storage roughly equivalent to 38 miles of file cabinets filled with information.
All of this contributes to the gradual break-up of our collective internal images of spiritual and psychological wholeness.
We live in a technologically rich time, but unfortunately technology offers little transcendent meaning, no conviction about the ultimate matters of human worth and destiny.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, while information technology increases choice and possibility, it cannot develop human individuality.
The individual must matter.
It is individuals, not governments and institutions, who are the carriers of life and civilization.
If the 21st century is going to contain the great advances we hope for, it is not going to be because of computers or artificial intelligence or the “gee-whiz” thrills of postmodern society.
It will be because individuals rethink their underlying assumptions and life goals.
In the centuries to come, the challenge will not be to develop a burgeoning technology; the dominant challenge will be to plumb the murky depths of the human personality and discover what enlarged meaning can be given to the individual human existence.