Sunday, March 13, 2005

What do you see when you look around you? Do you see the slow decline of a dying civilization, or do you see a glorious future for me and you and our children? This is not rhetoric. This is a question.

I have no real answers yet. In technological terms we are certainly better off than our fathers and mothers and our children will certainly be better off than us. We are in the midst of watching technology change around us, but the change is so gradual that we take most of it for granted. Looking back, the first computer I used was a BBC Micro, but I took the Internet for granted. My first phone was a stately old rotary phone issued by MTNL, but I took mobile phones for granted. Some things did jolt me a little. Dolly the sheep was cloned and I do remember thinking quite a bit about that. But on the whole it's not so hard to accept. Perhaps it's because I am an engineer, and I do understand science a bit more than the next person. But then again, I know enough non-engineers who also took all these things for granted, so perhaps it's just my generation. We were born into science.

I do worry sometimes that science will not be able to create enough to sustain us. None of us really take the time to accept the fact that we are creating too many children, and this planet may not be able to produce enough food for all of us. Nor will the planet's weather and soil systems be able recover from the pollutants we introduce. Perhaps science will be able to help. Perhaps. Call me when someone can replicate photosynthesis in a tube. When we can produce carbohydrates in a factory economically without using plants, using a energy source other than sunlight.

It is obvious though. Moore's Law is reaching it's limits and the next generation of life changing inventions will probably not involve computers and electronics.

Where civilization scares me a lot, is when we start discussing abstracts. Culture, art, theology, philosophy. Why can't I name a single artist, poet, or philosopher from my generation? What happened to us? Was it the television? Was it the Internet? (Was it [shudder] blogging?) This worries me because there should be something lasting that I should be able to recall when I am old. What will I remember when I am old and senile? The Simpsons? Star Wars? Grant Morrison? Or will my fate be worse and will tunes by Britney Spears and Ashlee Simpson stick in my head, and decide not to leave, hanging in there like some kind of memetic viruses? Why can't I name a single masterpiece painted by someone I can call a peer?

If a evangelist is reading this he (or she) will tell me that I will find the answers in God (or gods). I will, of course, tell him (or her) to go shove it, because my religion and beliefs are personal matter for me and not something I care to discuss with anybody except my intellectual peers. And most of my intellectual peers are jaded and cynical atheists.

Can you feel this void? You may not most of the time. We lead busy lives; there are creature comforts, minor irritations and career paths to worry about. But you will, on those cold nights when you can't sleep, there's nothing on the telly, there's no one to chat with and there's nothing you can do but think. Why am I here? Why are you here? Should we just not bother with answers and enjoy the ride? It sounds like a good plan, but I pray to God I don't have to follow it.

I have no answers. Not yet anyway. I just hope I do have some before my time comes.


i-me-moi said...

after ages ...

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you're gonna see this, but I couldn't help replying to some very interesting questions. I don't have time for paragraph-cohesion (or, as it may turn out, lucidity) but here goes -

- The moment we stop taking our technology for granted is the moment we stop advancing (turns out I do have the time for an oxymoron) it. We wouldn't have invented air travel if we were still gushing over our automobiles

- We certainly are burdening the resources of the planet and the answer, if any, will come from science. Mainly because science is not a flock of formulae so much as a way of looking at things. All the space yarns one reads won't be possible if man doesn't go colonising space, and that in turn won't happen if earth can sustain him. I'm not saying the solution will be as interesting as that. It could just be something as simple as the rise of eco-friendliness as a significant constraint on any new scientific development. And then instead of racing Millenium Falcons, we can saunter in our nice, little Toyota Priuses.

- How many of the life-changing inventions before the last century involved electronics and computers?

- I might be able to answer why you can't name a single artist, poet, or philosopher from your generation -

Poet - I read more poems in a single year in school than I did since. I read Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and William Wordsworth. I didn't read the work of any of my contemporaries, because they were a bunch of runny-nosed brats whom I couldn't stop fighting (well, atleast at the time they were). I don't read my contemporaries now, because I don't have to. Even if I did choose to ready poetry I would go to Frost or Whitman, rather than seek out newer ones. Its my fault that I can't name a single great poet from my generation. Maybe (and I stress on the maybe) it could be your fault as well.

Philosopher - I don't give a rat's ass about philosophers, but I'm sure there are quite a few in our times. There's never a shortage of people who like to tell you how to run your life.

Artists - I really don't give a rat's ass about artists, but a visit to your local art gallery might help.

Okay, so I couldn't help you answer that question, but I tried. And going by the number and quality of responses, that was more than what most did.

This is my favorite part of your post - "What will I remember when I am old and senile?" I spent some time thinking about it and the answer, for me atleast, was in another one of your lines - "because there should be something lasting that I should be able to recall when I am old." I think its too big of an expectation. I think I'd be glad to recall whatever I can when I'm old. Maybe it won't be a Grammy-winning tune or an Oscar-winning movie or a Pulitzer-winning book, but the very fact that I remember it will mean that there was something special about it, or at the very least my interaction with it. You can't look for something to be memorable; it just has to be.

I think you ask some excellent questions, and I don't think there's anything wrong with not bothering with answers, so long as you still have the questions.

Since the lucidity-crisis I was afraid of has materialized, I will refrain from identifying myself.