Humans and Machines

Nearly every time I ponder technology, especially when I learn of some new advancement, I imagine how fragile it is – physically and systemically.  The ancients carved words in stone and wrote them on papyrus and many (though not nearly all) of these messages from the past are still around for us to read and learn from.  Epic stories, agriculture records, words of advice, struggles to understand the world around them are written on durable materials for us to read hundreds or even thousands of years later.

But what of our time?  What of the blog?  What of the Excel spreadsheet?  Where are they really?  Are these words in the computer?  In a network somewhere?  What the hell is a “network” anyways?  It wouldn’t even take some catastrophic accident or chronic condition (like nuclear war or the ocean levels rising or a pulse bomb) for these words to simply go away.  As I understand it, one of the great dark secrets of the digital age is digital decay, where the information typed into computers simply disappears if it is not backed up somewhere or the logistical support system runs out of money or otherwise fails.  If and/or when these things that humans have made go, what will we humans do?

Therefore, I believe that it is important for us to both maintain a distinction between humans and their technologies and for us to understand the integration of the maker and his machine.  Human beings are human beings whether they exist in a time or place outside of our understanding of modern technology.   It is this ‘human element’ that frequently comes up when we try to study how we relate to new technologies.  Older generations (perhaps even the generation which actually made the technology) often react negatively to how the younger generation seems to be diabolically shaped by the new technology.  They react negatively because the younger generation seems to be missing something perceptually ‘human’ in them.  The blank faces, the shallow pleasures, the disconnect!!! that comes with every wave of new media technology is creepy to anyone observant while the technology is evolving and totally repulsive to most who are older and are on the outside of the media mainstream.

We can understand humans and their technologies in isolation in the purest physical way.  We can learn how the human body works and we can learn how a car works or how the machines that make up the internet work, but when it comes to questions of what it all means, then that’s where the barriers are blurry and we stumble with our words and arguments go back and forth.

In terms of how this relates to McLuhan, the media and the technology which make it up are simply extensions of our desire to learn, be entertained and, most of all, communicate.  The technology makes it possible to project or extend ourselves to the outer world where our thoughts can be evaluated by others.  The blog is a more efficient way to get our personal news and opinion out into the world where people can read it.  An equivalent technology of a blog before blogs came to be would be someone writing a statement, copying it out and mailing it to every friend he had and posting it on a bulleting board in every town square for miles around.  The technology makes such efforts logistically easy, nothing more.  If we were magic people and could project our thoughts to our peers without technology but with some weird telepathy, we would do that, but since that magic world does not exist, we have the internet.


2 Responses to “Humans and Machines”

  1. katherineer Says:

    I definitely agree with you when you discussed how older generations look down upon the younger generation because we are so dependent on technology. The older generation didn’t have half the technologies we have today, thus the newer generation is almost a completely different person and perhaps lack the way the older generation communicated.

  2. mediasaucy Says:

    This is such a well thought-out and articulate post! Good question: just how futile is each Excel spreadsheet that man creates? How obsolete will they one day become? Will anyone remember them in 2030? Will they have changed anything or mattered at all?

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