Technology canʼt make us eternally free, because technology isnʼt eternal
Tuesday, October 3rd, 2023 Alive 19,152 days
More and more, it seems that the promises of technology have fallen flat.
When we started building all of this, we really thought we were changing the world for the better. We had these visions that the work we were doing would usher in the Age of the Expanding Man — when people would be free to explore their humanity in new ways, while machines handled the grubby details invisibly behind the scenes. Steely Dan summed it up in the song International Geophysical Year:
Clearly, that didnʼt happen.
We wired all the worldʼs computers together thinking that access to infinite knowledge would lift people out of poverty. Mostly, it made the already rich people even richer. Social media was supposed to unite people in peace and understanding. All it did was divide us into angry tribes. We transitioned our movies and music to digital versions thinking that would bring the best the world had to offer to the masses. Instead, most of it was lost; and what remains is controlled by a few giant corporations to be doled out in dribs and drabs, sanitized, censored, and selected by a computer to ensure maximum profit.
Technology canʼt make us eternally free, because technology isnʼt eternal.
People who enjoy old technology continually struggle with degrading discs, leaking capacitors, and the inability to find parts to fix their machines. And while their hassles are readily dismissed as problems of their own choosing — like someone who chooses to drive an antique car — everyone has family photos.
Which, at long last, gets to the point of this screed: The illustration below.
The first image is a photograph of my grandfather. Itʼs over 120 years old, and looks nearly as good today as it did when it was taken.
The second image is what happens when I try to view a photograph I took with a digital camera 25 years ago. The bits have degraded to the point where itʼs not viewable, even on period-appropriate hardware. Few of the files on the disk show up anymore, and those that do are so full of errors, they canʼt be displayed.
The third image is what happens when I try to view a photograph I took with a digital camera just 10 years ago.
The printed photograph is still viewable 110 years longer than the photos from my Sony digital camera. And while there is a never-ending list of ways that the metadata can get stripped out of a digital photograph, the metadata for the printed photo is written on the back, and will be there for as long as the photo exists.
The folly is that we, as a society, have rushed to build a digital world without thinking about what weʼre doing. There is a persistent mantra of "technology is good" and "digital is better." But thatʼs not always true, in ways great and small.
What Iʼm trying to do in my life is to pick and choose which new technologies are worth integrating into my human world. Thereʼs no reason we canʼt live our lives with a reasonable amount of technology, but mixed with what we already have to enhance our lives, not to overpower our lives.
A light switch works every time. Asking Siri to turn on the lights does not. Therefore, Siri is a novelty, not an enhancement. So Iʼll turn on my lamp with my fingers, and look at my photographs on paper, while other people are free to stay locked in endless software updates and Googling solutions to the tech problems they have chosen for themselves.