Vita Machina

Welcome to the 21st century, realm of the machines. Life today revolves around the use of technology. This is but one of the undeniable truths of our current age.But the question is: is it good, bad, or is it even particularly revolutionary in its nature? This topic is in full-fledged debate in university this very moment. I would know. I attend.

And then again, this begs the question: is attending enough? The point has been brought forth that today’s education system is as obsolete as last year’s computer. Is this true? Is it time to advance beyond the preschool-elementary school-high school-university model that has been mainstream for what passes in today’s 10-second attention-span world as an eternity?

I don’t pretend to have answers.
I do have opinions.
Perhaps that’s a start to dismantling the education system.

A comment was made concerning the literacy rate of Prince Edward Island by a companion of mine. Theoretically there is a major issue with the ability of children to read, however given a chance to instant message one another, they are fully able to cope in an environment that demands an ability to truly read. Unlike the literature presented to us in the education system, which revolves around a disembodied voice presenting a narrative of events, speaking to live people on the other end of a communications’ relay requires genuine knowledge of the connotations contained within the message. Consideration must be given to phrasings, punctuation. and CAPitAlization. No, thei kanot spel and, their punctuation may not be grammatically in-tune with the 17th century regulations imposed on them. Nto to meniton the typos. But the amount one of the children of today can read out of a single misspelt message proves that they have a deeper understanding of the humanity behind the text than analysts of 19th century texts do. The machine has taught literacy — a different kind of literacy, certainly, but perhaps one more relevant to today’s needs, anyhow.

Marshall McLuhan wrote a book in 1967 called The Medium is the Massage. In it he presents his argument that the world is in a stage that has never before been witnessed, because of electronic communication. To him, the technology from his day was threatening to transform humanity unlike any previous innovation. That was 40 years ago. Is his argument still relevant? More relevant than ever? Was it relevant to begin with?

I would propose that it is, in fact, very relevant, but not in the way McLuhan was suggesting. To him, the television was proof that human beings were reverting to pre-literate patterns, that text and visual media were becoming encompassed by complete sensory experiences. Television, to him, represented the integration of sound, video, and presence.

As far as the media argument goes, I find it hard to refute. Certainly technology is advancing beyond a single-layered experience. However, the non-technological implications are, in my opinion, completely wrong. His suggestion that this particular line of advances is “the big one”, the one that will change the face of technology as we know it, is only evidence, in my mind, of the vita machina, the machine life, that surrounds us. And do excuse the poor Latin. I realize it is probably horribly wrong. But it sounds nice, and that is more important than grammar in this day and age.

Our machine life is so engrossing that we tend to forget that it is but the tip of the technological iceberg. This is perhaps even truer today, 40 years after the television was a major topic of discussion. The concept that innovations such as the internet are somehow different, somehow more moving of civilization than ancient advances, are looking at the ice that surfaces and assuming its slightly different colour means it is the raison d’etre of the iceberg. This egocentric view of humanity’s relationship with technology is perhaps typical of humanity, or at least of our culture, but has very little grounds for truth.

For today’s technology simply follows the exponential trend of acceleration that has been ongoing since the first major innovations were made by humans. When the alphabet was formed, it would have been a process of centuries for it to establish itself as useable. The same is likely the case with the wheel. Our culture looks at this long-term development, compares it to the spur-of-the-moment transformations that dictate technology in the 20th and 21st centuries, and judge this to be a sign of some major alteration having been made in the time period slightly before the boom. However, with millennia between the first human invention and modern times, it is difficult to grasp a single, key concept: technology is like a set of fertile bunny rabbits. It multiples no matter how hard you fight it.

The invention of the alphabet (or whatever innovation came prior to writing) naturally caused the next technological development by humans to be simpler, more adaptable. Similarly, the following invention made the one following it even simpler to integrate into the location’s culture. Yes, it still perhaps took a century to adapt, but the rate of change would certainly be increased. The pattern continues, with each innovation affecting the following ones, to varying degrees.

At the end of the cycle, we come to the internet, or whatever other major invention has recently replaced another. They too, will alter the face of communications in the same way the alphabet did. The internet will make innovations in transportation technology simpler and easier to integrate into our arguably global culture, in this case by allowing for more people to communicate faster and more often. Yes, our technology is changing at a faster pace then ever, but it by no means is the first set of advances to develop faster than the previous ones. That is why electronic information cannot be considered “the big one” of inventions.

In fact, it is just the product of an exponential increase in the potency of the initial big ones that were developed millennia past.



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