Wet wired for the wrong world

Wet wired for the wrong world
Published in the millennium supplement of the Trinidad Guardian, 01-01-2000.
Digital photography and collage by Mark Lyndersay, featuring the hands of Peter Shim.

Mankind has never been satisfied with nature's bounty. Ever since we first organised plants in neat, efficient rows and piled mounds of dirt against the banks of rivers, the human race has aggressively battled the unpredictability of nature.
Whether there are gods or demons are matters of faith and personal choice, but from the first day a child cannot go to the beach because the rain is pouring, the urge to control the forces of the world begins to beat fiercely in our hearts.

Almost every major advance in technology has been an assault on a once immutable law of nature. If the plains are dry, we will irrigate. If the sea is impassable, we will navigate it. If the moon hangs in the sky, temptingly distant and impressionably visible, we will visit it.
The coldest fear that people know in modern times is the terrible knowledge that for all our success in defying gravity, shrugging off the pressures of the sea and defiantly hurtling through the empty void of space, we have no more tamed the forces of nature than a cage has dimmed a lion's appetite for raw meat.

We may express outrage about the terrible damage and loss of life a terrorist's bomb may wreak, but at least there are an ideology and a mission with which to take issue. What do you say to a tornado? How do you argue truth with a hurricane or try to reason with an earthquake?
To modern society, the unpredictable, downright irrational lack of pattern or discernible systems that govern the heavings and pulsings of our planet are more terrifying than the purposeful slaughter of a serial killer.

This is the world that the force of decades of logic has wrought. Nine hundred and ninety-nine years ago, disease was a way of life. People lived heartily and died with brutal brusqueness. Along the way, they endured filthy water, annoying ailments brought on by poor hygiene, ate food that was often stale and sometimes in the early stages of rot.
To those people, hundreds of generations past, the sun and the rain, the winds that blew and the ground that quaked were just a part of their existence. The particularly devastating incarnations of its majesty a reminder of their fragile place on the earth's crust, perhaps a manifestation of a greater being's wishes for their lives.
The last century has brought us to a special place, a beginning to some things and an end to others.

After spending most of the millennium fighting to find a comfortable place on earth, we have left the battle with nature to develop technology which nurtures.
Being clean regularly is actually a fairly recent development. The ancient Mayans had an advanced culture but couldn't figure out that dumping severed heads from their sacrifices in their drinking water was killing them. What, after all, were invisible bacteria and microbes but a visionary fantasy? They had no terms of reference to begin to think about the problem.

Washing our bodies and clothes, preparing our food in safety and disposing of our waste are the true miracles of the last century. Once we organised sewage systems, garbage disposal, pipeborne water and a decent distribution of food, we were freed to think, to dream and to wish.
The birth of commercialism was the result of our freedom from desperate want, and the cultivation of new needs began; the need to be understood, to communicate to make our spiritual presence felt in our space on this planet.

In retrospect, computers were not so much an invention as an inevitability. Although our best science fiction could not foresee it, we shaped modern technology less from a designer's notion of sleek chrome and flashing lights than from our new, refined desires.
We are now wired beings capable of communicating with almost anyone on the planet, of sharing our thoughts and shaping the thoughts of others. The acceleration of technological growth in recent decades has not been driven by desperate human need. It is the result of rarefied thinking that constantly seeks to probe the opaque veil of time, striving to discover what our future needs and desires will be.

Now, the technology shapes us as much as we craft its form and function. We enter a decade, a century, a millennium of new needs in which everything we enjoy and marvel at today will be taken for granted with the same casual disdain with which we accept the flush toilet.
The foundations of the future will settle solidly on the bones of our present, conjuring new ways of seeing our world and living in it.

The next ten years seem so distant compared to our recent past. What will the next hundred, the next thousand bring?
It used to be pointless to consider the future. The future was just like the past only with older people. Then the future was temptingly dazzling, like the pristine world of the 1939 World's Fair, an event which dreamed of a science fiction future, with jetpacks and monorails. Now the future is today, and tomorrow is a distant, unreachable mirage.
If anything, our desperate present which finds us racing madly just to keep in place highlights the lunatic possibilities of our immediate future. Our world of today is like the expansionist Roman Empire in its prime. Marvels of engineering contrasted with remorseless brutality. We are a hopeless mismatch for the world we are creating, our bodies wet wired for an older, slower world which more readily coped with our simple thoughts and horrible passions.

Our technologies have raced ahead of us, and they are only on their warm-up laps. The real race of the future has not yet begun. The Internet is the combustion engine of information in its "Model T" era, the shape of the thing begins to be defined, its functionality clear, but decades of refinement remain in its future before it becomes a seamless and ubiquitous element of our existence. We are faced with the challenge of extrapolating a cruise missile from Mr Ford's assembly line iron, the information motor chugging and lurching frighteningly in the background.

The clean, blinding pace of modern communication and technological development has left us confused and stupefied, barely evolved tadpoles damp and gasping for air in an electron powered world which expects us to be walking upright.
The challenges of the future are no longer external. We have already made a perfect world. Now we just have to figure out how to live in it.
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