I have no idea why I am driven to write about this on such a beautiful morning. Except that I have the strong feeling that we should regard it more skeptically – as something that can be useful, but that can also take us away from ourselves.
I know when I speak of the importance of the Self I am treading on forbidden territory – because, in the last century or so we have been strongly encouraged to forget about it. People feel they have left this behind in their mad rush into the Future.
They have left their selves behind them! A more shocking state of events cannot be imagined. But everyone considers this perfectly normal.
The Computer was the last of many technologies that were part of this process. But it is far different from anything before it. And it is encouraging us to forget about ourselves forever – which would be, quite simply, mass suicide.
I got up this morning in a strange mood I could not understand – and I think part of that is the strange appearance on my computer’s desktop of the Google App Engine Launcher. I did not ask for this, but I got it anyway – very spooky!
There is a battle going on between Microsoft, Apple, and Google (and a few minor players) for control of the Computer World.
Strangely enough, when I brought up Wikipedia this morning the featured article was about the Battle of the Nile – where the British wrested control of the seas from the French. This laid the foundation for the British Empire – a very big thing in its time.
In a similar way the Battle for the Computer World is being fought – but the loser, ironically, will be all of us.
Those are strong words, now I must back them up.
First of all, and I have said this many times before, the Computer is not human – but a clever machine that appears to be human. And we have been taken in by it entirely. I am not entirely against this – I will take help, and even friendship, wherever I can find it. But I make a strong effort to understand where it is coming from.
I must quote a poem here, from Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, written in 1690, in what would later become Mexico. This is taken from the book Poems, Protest, and a Dream – a translation of her works from Spanish. This is from page 171:
In my pursuit, World, why such diligence?
What my offense, when I am thus inclined,
insuring elegance affect my mind,
not that my mind affect an elegance?
I have no love of riches or finance,
and thus do I most happily, I find,
expend finances to enrich my mind
and not mind expend upon finance.
I worship beauty not, but vilify
that spoil of time that mocks eternity,
not less, deceitful treasures glorify,
But hold foremost, with greatest constancy,
consuming all the vanity in life,
and not consuming life in vanity.
These rhyme in the original Spanish, on the opposite page.
The third stanza bothered me – until I equated it with the Victoria’s Secret catalogs my Tica friends love to get. The Beauty industry sells youthful beauty (which is closely associated with wealth) – and ignores the effects of aging.
I was speaking of battles, not of poetry, but Sor Juana had battles of her own, being a woman in a male-dominated society – which, in the end, she lost.
The Computer is winning battles on two fronts. The most important one is one people never see – it (and its networks) have made Globalization possible. Which I wrote about recently in The Dictatorship of Business - which was ignored completely.
The Second Front – more of an underground movement, really – concentrated on changing people to meet its needs. It didn’t think of it that way, of course – it said it was only helping people – but in fact it was making them robots – ones it could easily manipulate. It didn’t set out to do this – but it happened so easily – it only made sense to take advantage of this all-too-human weakness.
What was this weakness? Our love of Religion. Our belief in the supernatural. And the Computer was clearly supernatural – we thought. And could give us all the good things we always wanted.
We never stopped to analyze what these good things were – or, if in fact we were getting them. This would have involved critical thinking – a skill that had atrophied badly – since we had gotten used to letting the Computer do that for us.
Which gets me back to Computer Science, what I started to write about. I have worked at understanding this – no easy subject. But I keep being convinced that this science (if it is that) is far removed from human experience – and getting more that way all the time.
And, as a result, we are getting further away from ourselves all the time.