© 1997 by Gracie C. McKeever
(Opinion piece first published in Fall 1997 Issue of STREET NEWS)
I know it's been said before, over and over again, ad nauseam, hundreds of different times and ways, but recent events so graphically depicted in the media--painting a horrible picture of and for the future of our nation's youth--make it necessary to say once again: it appears the further we advance technologically, the further behind we leave our humanity. So close but yet so far, as it were.
No one would deny the miracles modern technology has wrought upon our cultures and I'm not suggesting we should squelch our ambitions or quell our needs to explore and succeed in the fields of technology and science. Nor am I suggesting technology shouldn't play a major role in the shaping of our societies.
We need technology. Technology is convenient and, in some cases, essential and necessary to our daily survival. We send and receive information faster than ever--faxing, e-mailing, surfing the Web, cruising the information highway--all but turning a plain phone call obsolete. And forget about letter writing with paper and pen.
On even more intimate levels our lives have also been affected by technology and scientific advancement as in the cases of Invitro fertilization (test-tube babies) and surrogate motherhood, whereby more palatable alternatives to adoption have been made available, benefiting infertile couples. We even possess the scientific know-how to alter our physical appearances--should we be dissatisfied with the packaging nature has provided--and can at will (barring poverty, lack of insurance and/or courage) change our facial and bodily dimension by way of rhinoplasty liposuction, collagen injections, rib removals and breast implants.
But while the prevalence and acceptance of these procedures and techniques point up how far we have come from the days of the wheel, back-alley abortions and the practice of leeches and witch-burnings as cure-alls for any physical and mental maladies, their very commonality epitomizes the decline of our value system--a system where speed, convenience and physical beauty are held in far greater esteem than efficiency, ethics, inner beauty and conscience.
Moreover, in our zeal to assist and change nature or improve our quality of life, we have unwittingly taken on the glory of creation without accepting the responsibilities inherent in this dire undertaking. In some cases we abuse our powers and abilities to the point of playing God and deeming ourselves capable of surpassing the Almighty's achievement as we dabble in areas beyond our full understanding and control, such as doctor-assisted suicide, genetic engineering and--the current hot wizardry of the moment--cloning. Is this all sounding a little Third Reichish or is it just me? Or maybe Marvin Gaye described the madness best when he long ago lamented, "What's Going On?".
In the midst of this insane scramble--to be the first, the brightest, the fastest, the best--and just when I'd thought I'd seen and heard everything--from Cybersex to Virtual Reality and Tamagochi Pets--here comes a nifty little do-dad touted as the new wave of the future (ANOTHER one?) to improve our communication capabilities as well as make our paper-publishing flow more smoothly. Yes, I came across a brochure in the office mail today heralding the arrival of the Jet M5 Fax, a spanking piece of equipment that can send and receive faxes simultaneously. Ooooh! AND it can receive two faxes at once from two different locations. Hip-hip hooray! Panacea for the techno-geeks among us! Just what the world needs: another toy born of "convenience" Or is it really a sign of our culture's impatience and hurry-up-and-wait mentality?
Pardon my sarcasm, and I am in no way proposing we shouldn't welcome technological conveniences like the Jet M5. Nor am I suggesting that there is no room in our society for scientific advances like cloning, genetic engineering and breast implants. Live and let live, I always say. But I would also say that our communities--especially our youth surfing the Web to enlightenment and carpal tunnel syndrome, or scoping the Net for intelligence--are losing their ability to reason and think for themselves. Our communities are losing their ability to differentiate between right and wrong. Our communities are losing their social conscience in the name of promoting science while downplaying the value of forbearance, discipline and self-control. Finally and simply put we are gradually losing our ability to COMMUNICATE. I know this sounds silly with all the information highways available to us today but when I say communicate I mean good old-fashioned TALKING and LISTENING. Not in online chat rooms, not in cyber lounges but face-to-face across a dinner table. Mothers squeezing in the time to sit down and listen to their daughters' prom party, dateless laments. Fathers male-bonding with their sons over a game of catch and not patting their boys on the back for "being a boy". Uncles and aunts helping their nieces and nephews with their homework. I'm talking about getting back to basics, getting to know each other and actually teaching our children the value of reading a book instead of playing Sega; teaching them the value of charity and voluntarism instead of date-rape and wilding; teaching them the value of baby-sitting and earning a buck instead of murdering for an ATM card and 800 bucks; teaching them the value of responsibility instead of dumping their helpless newborns in the trash at the prom or burning to death their renowned guardians. We need to teach our children the value of humanity.
There's no way we can totally obliterate some of the more callous and shallow elements of our society. There's no way that we can totally remove the Mansons, Dahmers, Kevorkians, Menendezes and Fergusons from our midst. There will always be madmen and greed as long as people live and breathe. If, however, we focus our energies and talents more on raising our children – making time for them, sharing the mundane as well as the fantastic and connecting with their souls instead of pushing them in front of the boob tube and allowing it and the Net to entertain, babysit and basically do our jobs – we might be able to winnow and weed out the mad scientists and bombers of our societies, nip in the bud their base, crueler instincts with a collective exhibition of concern and attention to their earliest cries for help. We might be able to avoid tragedies like Waco, Texas, Oklahoma City, Jonathan Levin and Megan Kanka and shorten the list of these fallen victims numbering in the double-digits before an evening newscast's first commercial break.Scientific advance and technology versus our quality of life.
Healthy adjusted youth versus cyberpunks and hackers. Cannibals and serial killers versus surgeons and genetic engineers. I know I've outlined a bleak and daunting vision of modern-day society. The question is, can we find a happy medium between the world of technology and humanity? I believe it's worth a try because if, in our arrogance we continue to ignore the problems in the hopes that they'll go away on their own, the alternative – jet-age progress in the name of quality improvement but at the expense of our humanity, is not progress at all. Only de-evolution in disguise.
Off the soapbox...
*Author's Note: Barring minor revisions, I've "re-printed" the above article above exactly as it appeared in STREET NEWS a few years ago. Indeed, I believe it is as timely now, the sentiments as applicable to the new millennium as they were in the old. And of course, I myself am as impassioned and concerned with the afore-mentioned state of affairs now as when I first penned the above article. The difference? I have since capitalized on a "wave of the future" and become an e-published author...not to mention I've fallen to the ultimate "evils" of technology and become an incontrovertible Internet Junkie .