characterized by a brain capacity averaging 1400 cc (85 cu in.) and by dependence
upon language and the creation and utilization of complex tools. (Random House
Kerneman Webster's College Dictionary)
TECHCOMPLEX: A state of mind characterized by a fascination with the potential,
mystery, and power of technological creations, especially of high-technology,
leading to a condition of obsession, preoccupation, and/or dependency upon
these tools to the neglect of other human values. (J.R.Mishoe, 2016)
I begin this blog with the definitions in order to underline the point I am making concerning humanity's relation to the tools we have created. Going back to the first definition of homo sapien, what stands out is the third of our distinguishing characteristics. The first is our brain size, the second is our use of and dependency upon language, but the third characteristic is one we do not often think about: "the creation and utilization of complex tools."
One such tool is our smartphone. We cannot put the thing down. We take it everywhere, we pull it out the first moment we have free, we interrupt our conversations with friends and business associates to answer a call or to make one, and we now use it for everything - directions, music, information about complex matters, photography, etc., etc.
It is not that we have phones but that they have us. We approach panic when we think we may have lost our phone, and we eagerly wait for the new revised phone that will make our present one obsolete. Our dependency upon them grows daily.
That's just the phone. Now look around at all the other gadgets that help us do our work, entertain us, provide medical services, and -- oh yes -- take us places! Our automobiles are becoming smarter with each year, and already they have more computers than our astronauts had to go to the moon, and we may only be going grocery shopping.
But you know all this. It has become common place to go on and on with others about our dependency upon our gadgets. However, lurking in the background to our conversation is a growing awareness or even apprehension about the speed with which these high-tech gadgets are becoming smarter than we are. It is as if we have created something that is now re-making the world in which we live, toward what end we do not know.
Whether it is a blessing or a curse may depend. Whether or not we are co-creating a world in which the treasures of our humanity are left behind, in behalf of a conjured power that will possess us, may depend upon how conscious we are about our fascination with this newly-found power, a malicious power emerging from our unconscious alliance with a soul-less technology that tempts us with god-like attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omni-presence.
For example, consider the movie now playing in our theaters, "Eye in the Sky." In brief, the plot of the movie unfolds around the search for high-profile terrorists who have been tracked to a house in Nairobi, Kenya. The original plan had been to capture the terrorists, but when it becomes clear that a plot is underway to stage a suicide bombing which will kill at least 80 people, then the mission changes to that of attacking the house with a drone-directed bomb. The only hesitation is that an innocent young nine-year-old girl has set up her stand to sell her family's freshly baked bread to passers-by, and her location next to the house means she will also be killed should the house be bombed.
We have been introduced to the lovely little girl and her parents earlier. They are winsome, the portrait of a normal, loving mother, father, daughter family. And thus we all are drawn into the drama: Do we bomb the terrorists and risk killing the innocent child as well, or do we spare her but at the expense of letting the terrorists go on with their plot to kill countless others?
We are seared by this human drama while we we are also fascinated with the technology that enables the plot to be seen and to draw us in. Here is my reason for inserting this movie in my reflection upon our fascination with technology. The movie cleverly, in a dramatic but realistic way, introduces us to the anguish of the characters who include: the British Colonel (Helen Mirren) who pushes for the attack, her commanding general (Alan Rikman) who supports her but listens to other points of view, the drone pilot (Aaron Paul) who hesitates to pull the trigger and asks for a revised risk assessment, and several other governmental and political officials who are consulted and asked to sign off on the mission or not. You can feel for these people when their deep human values and care for life forces them to a breaking point at which some decision must be made, or as the saying goes, when not to decide is to decide, and many lives are potentially at risk.
This cast does a magnificent job bringing us into the horrible process of deciding. But it is not just the human cast that sets up this movie to make it a profound production. Also revealed to us is the incredible technology that makes all of this possible and frightening.
For example, the camera shifts scenes from the colonel's command post in Sussex to the control room in Whitehall where her commanding general is sitting around a table with governmental and political leaders, to the pilot's command console in Las Vegas, to the village of Nairobi, Kenya were an on-the-ground surveillance operative is guiding the very sophisticated cameras -- one the size and appearance of a bird positioned outside the house, and another the size of a beetle able to enter the house directed by the remote control of the operative's smartphone, making possible the eavesdropping on the terrorists putting on suicide vests. And at critical points in the excruciating decision-making process, various other leaders, including the US Secretary of State on a state visit in China, are projected on the screens enveloping all of the players in a cocoon of visual connectedness, spanning more than three continents while the drone flies patiently overhead, waiting for the electronic signal to attack.
It is the technology that weaves this single mission into a tragic drama of life and death to be determined by characters asking themselves, "What is the good in this case?" The actors and those of us watching appear to be insulated in a closed, dark room with a screen that brings us into the most intimate closeness with persons who will live or die based upon the decision that will be made.
This drama of being forced to choose whether others will live or die has always been with us in some form. But now the drama has escalated. In classical theology, the attributes of God were considered to be omnipotence (God is all-powerful.), omniscience (God is all-knowing.), and omni-present (God's eye sees all.). Technology has now bequeathed to us those attributes.
This is what I am calling the "techcomplex." It is a state of mind caught up in a technological haze, seemingly possessing the god-like attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omni-presence. We hold unbelievable power, enough to destroy whole groups of people and the earth itself, but no moral mandate to direct the power; we have access to knowledge and the never-ceasing flow of data, but no consciousness with which to discover its meaning; and with our eyes in the sky that formerly belonged to God (see Zachariah 4:1ff), we can see everything everywhere all of the time, but lose sight of the fact that we are also being seen and counted simply as one more statistic.
Something is wrong within the techcomplex. The rate of PTSD among drone pilots exceeds 30%. And the destruction of life leaves us with the glassy, empty-eyed stare of the characters in "Eye in the Sky" at the movie's end, a soul-less state in which no matter who wins the war, humanity loses.