Mark Antony Rossiís Machine Therapy: No. 5

Extending Our Reach Into Nothingness: Why Technology Canít Fix Character

Marshall Mcluhan, in his influential book Understanding Media published in 1964, accurately assessed his present dayís relationship to technology. He wisely argued that humanity was becoming detached from itself in a most unhealthy manner. Yet, the cardinal conclusion of Understanding Media, spoke of a collective implosion of awareness resulting in a global village. Man could no longer extend himself into an artificial environment and was bound to revert back to a simpler form of social organization. A cursory examination of a modern-day mentality, five hundred cable channels, satellites ringing the earth for greater cellular phone clarity, and so forth, leads one to conclude Mcluhan's global village tribal assumptions have fallen short of reality. His predictions were predicated on a form of collective fatigue; thus resulting in technological standstill.

Technology has advanced enormously since 1964; man has discovered newer and more powerful methods to extend himself. The personal home computer and its network tentacles have insured wider reaches than ever before. Television has jumped from a handful of channels to hundreds. Vinyl records will soon join the Smithsonian as compact discs release digital sounds as perfect as the studio recordings. Satellite relays transmit real-time news events the moment they occur. The recent Gulf War is a worthy example of satellites supposedly transmitting the action from the front, when all that actually occurred was further detachment from moral relationship--which being the dangerous distance such weapons create between the soldier and the enemy. Reality is robbed and is vulnerable to unethical rationalization, political sloganeering, and military doubletalk.

To say that the Gulf pictures were any different than a common video game purchased at the local mall would be a serious diversion from the truth. Instead of the Mcluhan theory of "closeness and community," people are disciples of distance. They are a myriad bunch of isolated, insolated creatures viewing life through television or computer screens. With the advent of virtual reality, humanity will continue to distance itself from the world-at-large while it dives deeper into blinking toy distractions corporations conceive for our boundless appetite of escapism.

As much as I respect Marshall Mcluhan's research and positive intent, his Understanding Media is far too idealistic, a candy-toothed product of the '60s flower-child hyper-optimism. Modern life and its technological byproducts shall surely lead us into greater isolation and eventual wars of both body and spirit.

History clearly cuts our path: we learn very little from it and we repeat its mistakes like children in rebellion against authority. Machines teach even less. Human social evolution has been and always shall be a result of massive conflict, of blood and bodies stacked high before decency sinks into the masses. This is how humanity learns all of its most important lessons; how the most profound social progressions take place. Those of us in the know are utterly shaken when listening to stories about white South Africans unaware of terrible black shantytown conditions.

The shantytowns were not hundreds of miles away; in some cases they were only a neighborhood away. How a modern society, such as South Africa, could be so insolated to reality is just another awful testament to our collective flawed character and the grand illusion technology fosters. Satellite communications have significantly aided in disasters like Ethiopia and Somalia, and we must take the responsibility to realize that such equipment is expensive and not within the grasps of poor countries barely able to feed their populations.

Such coverage is provided, as always, to wealthier countries, more susceptible to cutting or ceasing coverage whenever the latest juicy London, Wall Street, or Hollywood scandal promises a greater market share of ratings. While corporate industry raves constantly about the incredible advances and advantages of the Information Superhighway--who is this highway for? Certainly not for the poor citizen who worries about rent and supper. What research is currently underway gathering evidence to prove or disprove the benefits of technology's democratic-enhancing abilities?

If the well heeled and powerful are sole beneficiaries, how do these advances aid Democracy? If only wealthy childless couples can afford test-tube pregnancies, why should poor childless couples celebrate? If only rich ailing-patients receive expensive organ transplant surgery, what should our poor dying citizens say about our life-giving procedures? In a day and age when kids are gunned down for their expensive athletic shoes, do such developments (and their ensuing envy) rescue or promote societal friction and decay?

Humanity may only be a cyber leap from technotopia, but we must rigorously question what real benefits it can provide. Science fiction material like films "The Blade Runner" or "Minority Report" speculate on how advanced technology and poor human character will evolve. The scene is not pretty. Amid the flying hovercraft and bright lights, poverty is institutionalized and synthetic humans are built for war and for sexual pleasure. It is the old pain and pleasure principle updated and played out in a futuristic cesspool of urban neglect and human profanity.

We as a species are approaching a new millennium where these questions must be answered if we are ever to come to terms with our ugly history and successful long-term human civilization. We can no longer afford macho reasons for climbing the mountain because it is there. Sound reason and intelligent restraint should be the partners of every government and science practicing new ways to expand our horizons.

The questions of poverty, racism and war are not equations solved by super-human machines spewing out trillions of solutions a minute. These are dilemmas that can only be resolved through human contact and communication. Recent trends seem to indicate that constructive contact and communication are not goals of sophisticated technology. For some dark reasoning socially redeeming pursuits are deemed unprofitable, further deepening the suspicions of the marginalized and the poor that technology is be used to exasperate their disenfranchised condition.

The fertile core of "Technotopia" is more likely to be governed by the rich, the powerful and like persons possessing whatever talent and persuasion is currently in fashion. Subdivisions of Technotopia may serve as the 21st century's newest gulag, concentration camp or pollution collection centers. Toxic waste is a byproduct of manufactured advanced hardware and software. Those cheated of the American Digital Dream are forced to dwell on the outskirts, the euphemistically-hidden "inner-city," "ghetto," "urban enterprise zone" or whatever clever people name the areas of despair dotting the present democratic landscape.

In an age of increasingly technological interdependency and construction, where one person or a group of persons are denied access regardless of reason--all freedom is threatened. Denied access destroys one's chance for employment, health, or even life. As technology moves at lightning speed without the ethical examination required it would redefine what is life, democratic government, and possibly happiness and liberty. The Bill of Rights in America and powerful instruments of protection in other free countries may face new challenges unimagined by the liberty-loving founders of these Republics.

Our attention should focus on who will be left, unblemished and unaddicted to the new mechanical order? Who will be left to register protest and reverse the ugly course? Society is steering on to a digitally enhanced superhighway of virtual freedom and practical fascism. I welcome, as millions of peaceful people do, Mcluhan's vision of a global village where humans must face their problems openly and honestly instead of dodging behind walls of class, race culture, and nation. Humanity may yet arrive there. Quite possibly the day after destructive genius is buried beside hatchet of hatred.

Until that glorious day, citizens must remain on guard, closely watching for mechanisms and movements designed to curtail our God-given rights to pursue life and liberty in the manner our hearts believe is best. Machinery and men of evil intent are already in place willing to justify tyranny in order to satisfy our fears. Though, we struggle to comprehend that fear, not machine, is the enemy, the very first knock at midnight's door might be a device programmed to carry out a digital-fascist solution.

Mark Antony Rossi is an bioethics expert and author of critically-acclaimed volume "The Intruder Bulletins: The Dark Side of Technology" released by Hardshell in Multi-Format for Mac, Abode, Windows and Palm Pilot and other electronic formats.