Archive for July 22, 2009

PART I: Tales From An Alternate Reality

I remember thinking as a child, that the year 2000 was destined to be that penultimate year of the future so idealized by pop culture. Movies like Back To The Future part II, with its flying cars, fusion-powered engines, and hoverboards, seemed like a feasible roadmap to a future within reach. Back then it seemed that technology had no limits and was growing at such a rate, we could hardly keep up with it–and it was, for the most part.

There came a point, I believe, where we reached a fork in the road to our advancement as a civilization. I haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly the point of departure, but it seems that somewhere along the lines, this technological growth has slowed, halted, or maybe even regressed. If technology is a natural extension of human evolution, which I believe it is, then we are experiencing a disruption of our progress as a species.

My critics have argued against this idea, pointing to advances in computer technology, wireless communication, advanced weaponry, and even those nifty little HD T.V.’s that are becoming ubiquitous. They claim that I expect too much too soon, and we are still advancing at the same breakneck speed. But still, as I sit in front of my computer, sifting through its myriad of petty problems, I can’t help but wonder: What century do we live in?

When I watch T.V. commercials, especially car commercials, I get fired up at the absurdity of the ideas that are presented. The simple fact that we are still a society mainly influenced by solicitation and provocative advertising shows how little we’ve progressed. We are moved by influential “powers-that-be” who peddle their version of reality under our noses, and presto! It becomes the established reality. Those sad souls who would rather passively stand by and accept this version of reality chime: “Well, that’s just the way it is. Without advertising there wouldn’t be funding for T.V. shows.” I, on the other hand do not accept this version of reality as “the way it is.” It didn’t have to go this way. We were on a path and we strayed.

Take car commercials for example. When I see these ads that create a fantasyland of flying automobiles and whimsical landscapes, when I see through the car corporation’s ploy to elevate the act of driving to some sort of transcendental experience, I get angry. This is due not only to the advertising industry’s tendency to pander towards the stupidity of humans, but also because the auto industry is flaunting, onscreen, the very thing that they have failed to produce! They mock us with tantalizing images of cars that float along sky highways, or cars that transform into giant robots, or cars that speed through fantastical worlds that have nothing to do with the product itself. We are presented with a vision of the future and it is sad to behold the true lack of vision that exists as the centerpiece of the ad: the gas-driven internal combustion engine car (ICE-car for short).

Here is a technology that has remained virtually unchanged in the last 100 years. Sure, automobiles have become sleeker, air-conditioned, and more expensive, but the essential technology that resides at the core of this product has stayed the same. And what are the reasons for this? Is it because the design of the modern automobile is the pinnacle of human ingenuity? Is the technology superior to anything else that might have been created for the same purpose? How about a lack of imagination? Car commercials demonstrate that there is certainly not a lack of imagination. No, I believe that the reason we have not yet surpassed the worn-out paradigm of the ICE-car, rests squarely on the shoulders of the auto industry itself.

Right now, we live in a society that is pre-dominantly focused on the American economy. One of the historical pillars of this economy has always been the automobile industry which is, finally, seemingly, on the verge of collapse. I, for one, am applauding this inevitable collapse.

Why? Because of the auto industry’s ultimate lack of vision. It seems that more thought was put into the “vision” of their overpriced, overhyped advertisements than the actual product itself.

Why? Because the major American car corporations have squandered their massive wealth only to deliver more of the same, lame cars at increased cost to the consumer.

Why? Because they allowed untethered greed to establish such a sprawling system of mass-production, bloated sales-driven dealerships, and flamboyant product lines that collapse was always inevitable.

Why? Because the auto industry has failed to progress according to the needs of the consumer and the environment.

Why then, if the auto industry has achieved such a massive failure, do they still operate today? The answer, sadly, is that we as American consumers would buy just about anything as long as the product is presented with slick advertising, a vanity-driven desire has been created for it, and no better alternatives have been presented to compete with it.

The first two reasons are societal/psychological symptoms, but the last reason is solely the responsibility of the “powers-that-be” in the auto industry.

It has been well documented that the auto industry has long held on to beneficial/progressive technologies that would literally revolutionize the industry. Advances in extended battery life, alternative fuels (not ethanol), and electric motors are just a few examples of existing technologies that the industry has purposefully withheld from the public, in order to maximize profits from their current invested technologies.

So powerful and influential has this industry been, that they have had the purchasing power to literally buy off patents from independent inventors. In fact, GM did release a limited number of fully electric vehicles in the early 90’s, but was able to successfully recall and destroy all existing models under leasing protection. Only one electric car was spared, and it sits in a car museum (for more information on this, check out the film “Who Killed The Electric Car?”).

Another fact is that electric vehicles were actually more dominant in the market before Henry Ford revolutionized the mass production of gas powered cars in the 1920’s. This only further illustrates my theory that technology could have gone in a different direction.

I put greed at the center of the auto industry’s , and ultimately the “powers-that-be’s” monumental gaffe. But if technology is the extension of human evolution and consciousness, then what right do they have to slow, regulate, or halt the rate of progress? People are hungry for progress. They are hungry for change.

Science and technology used to stem from an organic process of problem solving and discovery. Now it seems that research and development (R&D) in the form of more advanced technology has become so intertwined with corporations, that the independent inventor has become all but snuffed out. Who else has the investment capital? Who else has the R&D infrastructure? Who else has the ability to recruit the top scientists and brilliant minds? Oh yeah, the government has that ability too.

So basically what I am asserting is that somewhere along this road of technological discovery, the path split, and we have taken a turn towards the dark side. What used to be an organic province of the human mind has been hijacked, at the highest levels, by corporate and government interests, who have either slowed or halted the natural flow of this process (at least when it comes to the public interest).

This is demonstrated by their massive failure to deliver products and establish a society where technology benefits all of humanity and the planet. Much of this technology has been used to wage war, keep the public distracted, keep the wheels of industry rolling, and to deliver vanity products that promise more flash than substance.

We somehow turned right when we should have turned left, and have ended up in this strange alternative reality where the big technological breakthroughs aren’t flying cars and meals in a pill, but are rather gadgety cell phones, SUV’s, and more cable channels.

Don’t believe me? Don’t wanna see? Try taking your imagination off the shelf, dust off the cobwebs and ask yourself: “Is this all there is? Is this where we’re supposed to be?” Ask yourself: “What Century Do We Live In?”

Coming soon:

So Much For The Afterglow…