There was a time when the circle ruled life. Life was a cycle of seasons, of birth, growth and death in which life was returned to Mother Earth’s womb only to be born again.
Now, life is reduced to the straight line, the linear progression moved by the energy of its own momentum. At one time the line was called progress, and it was believed it was carrying us towards the heavens.
However, one can only have a destiny if one has a past. But, the further we move along the line, the more the past fades into the mist of oblivion. Life is reduced to a tiny laser dot whose linear movement lacks both a past and a future.
We mistake this movement for progress and believe that all change is good no matter how much destruction it leaves in its wake. As it moves, the dot believes that it is ascending when, in fact, it is descending.
Rather than a linear ascent, all historical and cultural movements inscribe a Bell curve, with an ascent, an apogee and a descent. Technological progress is no different, and we could well be riding the descent segment of the curve.
Initially, technology contributed to civilization, making life easier and more comfortable, conquering disease and lifting us out of the morass of superstition. But as with all other historical phenomena, technology peaked. Once this happened, technological innovation became destructive with the costs far outweighing the benefits. One could argue that we passed over the apogee with the splitting of the atom.
Many technologies that were benign at their inception have soured and threaten our quality of life. The internal combustion engine was great at first. Now it generates pollution and, instead of motoring pleasure, it is generating resource wars. Our dependency of plastics consumes too much oil. Petroleum based fertilizers have seen the rise of monoculture and the gradual depletion of our top soil.
Technology was a booster rocket that lifted us out of the quagmire of primitivism. But once spent, it becomes deadweight that must be jettisoned. Failure to do so will have us plunging back into the quagmire.
One could argue that the profound technological progress, the progress that made a real difference in our lives, happened between 1820 (railroads) and the 1940s (splitting the atom). Everything since then is simply the combining of existing technologies. A computer is simply a typewriter, a calculator and a television hooked up together.
New technologies do effect change, but the change is increasingly superficial. Will the fact that I can play videos on my cell phone really improve the quality of my life, especially if, thanks to the same cell phone, my boss has me on an electronic chain 24/7? Finding my way with a GPS instead of a map may be easier, but does it really contribute to my quality of life? No matter how many improvements are made to the television set, the content remains as bland as ever.
In the grand scheme of things, our technology will barely register as a cosmic fart.