Are We Still In Control?

Man has been controlling his environment since the beginning of time. Unlike most other animals which must evolve to adapt to the gradual changes in their environment man has been able to use his ingenuity to alter his immediate surroundings to control his exposure to the elements. This allows him to deal quickly to changes. For example he devised clothing consisting of the cured skins and fur from killed animals to keep him warm thus eliminating the need to evolve a lot of body hair. This allowed him the flexibility to travel extensively to areas where the environment varies and take off his cloths when hot so he could sweat very efficiently over his entire bare body. He tamed fire to provide light, warmth, and protection at night extending the time he had available to do tasks and develop communication skills with his extended family beyond daylight hours. He incrementally invented the club, spear, and bow allowing him to kill prey from progressively further distances. His hands became adept at grasping and manipulating to fashion and use tools. And most of all man had an amazing brain which has not changed much in the last 50,000 years but has harnessed nature in amazing ways to create all that we both love and dread today.

Man’s creative ability to devise tools, technology, and communication skills to adapt and control the environment in which he lives has allowed him to greatly improve his standard of living over the ages. Each advancement has extended his ability to do more, live longer survive better, and procreate more efficiently. Each tool or technological concept has resulted in a large host of related inventions such as from the wheel to the cart to the car. This is adaptive revolution in place of the natural selection of evolution. But these shortcuts have created a major drawback. This rapid progress does not allow time to selectively weed out the many unpleasant side effects of each technological advancement as does the natural selection of evolution. Thus many hidden problems fester and never get solved or weeded out before something else is invented that compounds the side effects later creating enormous problems for both man and nature. The accumulation of greenhouse gases is a prime example of a consequence of man’s appetite for invention which are as a consequence destroying his environment and the planet. Another is overpopulation. Two hundred years ago there were less than a billion people on earth. Now there are over seven billion all consuming more resources than the earth can sustain.

Our family upbringing and all the education we receive do not adequately prepare us to cope with the constant changes of modern day life. We still have much of the caveman in us. Each new generation has a new set of social demands and coping skills to adapt to due to the constant advances in technologies, each creating new social challenges and consequential side effects in less than a generation. As a kid I grew up in the world of rotary dial phones, party lines, and black and white vacuum tubes TVs. It was only after I reached adulthood that the PC was invented and then cell phones and now smart phones and tablets and who knows what next. Each has revolutionized life. Smart phones are now like a part of one’s clothing that one wares constantly during the day. They are as powerful if not more so than our earliest mainframe computers. Many people no longer know how to function without these gadget accessories. What next? The more gadgets we become dependent upon the more we must learn to adapt these gadgets to our daily lives. Then there are social networks and cloud computing that grow out of these new technologies.

Science fiction writers have been writing novels about machines taking over the world for more than a century. What we fail to realize is that we are starting to lose control over our technologies. Instead our machines and gadgets are starting to take control of us. Science fiction is starting to become science fact. We are becoming increasingly dependent upon our gadget to tell us what to do and when to do it. Technology tells us the weather and when best to buy stocks. Smart phones remind us of our appointments and what others are saying on social networks and much more. Our shopping habits are now controlled by customized ads tailored just for us on our smart devices which spy on everything we do and the information we seek out on these gadgets. Fast foods are controlling our diets and adversely affecting our health and longevity. Technology turns on the heat and lights and controls the window shades in some of our homes while we are driving home from work. It starts our car and warms it up before we get in. Off and on switches are quickly becoming a thing of the past. But each of these gadgets we are becoming increasingly dependent upon creates its own set of sociological problems. How does one turn on the light in a panic without a light switch?

Are we really in control of our technology and environment or is our technology in control of us? Is the Orwellian future already at hand? Do we even realize how much we have become the slaves of our gadgets instead of their masters? We often attribute human qualities to our gadgets. We sometimes address them like people. My gadget is having a bad day. It’s slow because it is thinking too hard. We communicate with our machines more than we do other people. Even our identity is no longer under our control but controlled in that cloud in the internet ether somewhere and who knows who or what now owns it. Machines do much of our medical diagnosis. I don’t think doctors realize how obsolete they are quickly becoming as the machines they are becoming increasingly dependent upon become smarter and better at making diagnosis and recommending treatment. Machines now do much of the designing for newer machines.

We consider technology the tools that aid our daily lives but we have programmed them to make many if not most of the decisions for us. So who is master and who is slave. Are we really still in control anymore?

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