The Inevitable Failure Of Technology

We Devise New Technologies To Serve Us And In Our Boundless

A few days ago I was in Salem, Massachusetts. Whenever I visit this charming hamlet I am acutely aware that short centuries ago people like me, (who manifest mental illness in splashy, colorful ways), were subjected to questionable judicial proceedings, found to be practitioners of witchcraft, and summarily executed. When I leave, after a day of enjoyable tourism, I do so with a sense of gratitude that I live in a more enlightened age.

In the climate controlled splendor of the Peabody Essex Museum I found myself examining a page from an original Gutenberg Bible. Now, we will leave the absurd, disturbing subject matter of this dense, complex book for another day and focus instead on the descriptive text next to the glass case which read, in part – Johannes Gutenberg – 1395-1468 – Named “Man of the Millennium” by TIME Magazine in recognition of his profoundly significant contribution to world culture.

Naturally my first thought after reading this was – wow, who knew TIME Magazine was still in business?

“Technology has democratized the tools of creativity, resulting in a tsunami even more cretinous and loathsome than anticipated.” Taz Mopula

While we think of movable type as something related to literature and philosophy, it is in fact a technological breakthrough. Let’s say, more engineering than art.  As such, it could never qualify as the most important achievement of the millennium because it did not improve the soul of man. Indeed, by putting the bible in the hands of millions it may easily be argued that it set human evolution back several millennia.

“Humans can repair mechanical problems; but machines cannot repair human problems, only manifest them in new forms.” Taz Mopula

For some time, humanity has put its faith in technology, with catastrophic results. TIME Magazine’s deification of Gutenberg is an excellent example of this, as is the recent Steve Jobs adulation orgy. Jobs was flamboyant and had an uncanny gift for marketing and developing machines that look and behave the way people want them to look and behave. But again, the consequence of his contribution is strictly technological, not spiritual, and therefore cannot be considered deeply important.

Humanity does not have problems; humanity is the problem. If Gutenberg and Jobs have taught us anything at all they have proven beyond debate that more communication is not necessarily better communication and, as ever, the difficulty isn’t the car, it’s the loose nut behind the wheel.

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Alistair McHarg

Alistair McHarg was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, moved immediately to Edinburgh, and three years later moved to Amsterdam. At 6 he settled in Philadelphia and for 16 years was confused by Quaker education; Germanton Friends School and Haverford College. A Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Louisville nudged him even closer to unemployability.

Convinced at an early age that fate had chosen writing as his calling, Alistair followed a characteristically slow and circuitous path. He has found work as deck hand on a Norwegian tramp freighter touring South America, Bureau of Land Management Emergency Fire Fighter in Alaska, guide at a Canadian wilderness survival camp, truck driver crisscrossing Colorado’s continental divide, and inner city cabbie.

Alistair has been arranging words on paper for a living since 1983.