but where does it go?
I believe that the purpose of technology is to alleviate suffering on earth which, for lack of a better word, means creating something with Godlike powers. Control over health, reproduction, war, life, death, weather, etc. All the Grecian cabinet positions are slowly being filled. By technology I don’t mean any particular gadget or box, I mean the body of knowledge available to a society. That knowledge is generally directed towards alleviating suffering and blowing shit up, which used to be God’s domain. God is supposed to heal the sick, he’s supposed to decide wars, and he’s supposed to double the harvest. Over time, however, people have found rituals and spells that actually work and now penicillin heals the sick, nuclear bombs decide wars, and fertilizer doubles the harvest. Now, our belief in this body of ritual and artifice is so great that we no longer call it faith, but rather settled fact. In fact the very things that bring us closest to knowledge of God are cited as proof that he does not exist. We are so convinced of these new rituals that I think we’ve lose track of the ultimate (unspoken) goal of technology, which is to create God on Earth. All seeing, all knowing, and full-text searchable.
Note: this is extra, extra spacy, but actually not crazy within a certain community
What is God?
Mmmm, there is a much more qualified video discussion of this here, but I’ll stick to a basic definition. The dominant religions of today are orders of magnitude more complex than they or any other religion used to be. I won’t go any further than to say that they believe in a higher power. That higher power can do some seriously bad-ass stuff, like levelling buildings, cure leprosy, control weather, etc. It also, generally, cares for the welfare of humanity, if we would just get our shit together. So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that God is a higher power for good. I use the word ‘God’ in this generic sense.
How do you worship God?
God (or Gods) seem to follow certain protocols – demanding certain observances and practices. If you’re Hasid that’d include dressing in a certain way and Sikh’s don’t cut their hair. Christians take Sunday off, and Hindus/Buddhists have weddings and all at auspicious times. In Islam you turn towards Mecca at proscribed times to keep the cosmic clockwork spinning. Burning incense is supposed to help reach God/faith, as are particular mental states of meditation or prayer. Ancient religions also involved animal/human sacrifice and other packets to be sent through the ether.
What faith existed before organized religion is broadly classed as ‘superstition’ – throwing salt over your shoulder, not stepping on cracks, etc. Sri Lankans (and everybody) still believe in these superstitious ways of effecting higher good, lighting lamps for birthdays and bubbling over milk when building a house. Whether organized or not, people believe that certain ritual can effect certain higher/gooder changes in the world.
Today you’re not supposed to ask for stuff but people still send prayers for specific events (illness, death) and for desired outcomes (pregnancy, wealth). In ‘ancient’ faiths there were no qualms about this and goats were openly toasted for a favorable voyage or marriage. All of these acts, as ineffective as we may see them, are taken secure in the knowledge that a) there is a higher power which can alleviate suffering and b) there are rituals to entice that power to act.
What is technology?
There are a lot of definitions, but the anthropological one is ‘The body of knowledge available to a society that is of use in fashioning implements, practicing manual arts and skills, and extracting or collecting materials.’ That of course leaves out any purpose. A lot of scientific definitions add, ‘in order to extend human capabilities’ or ‘to benefit humanity’ or ‘to fill perceived wants/needs’.
Technology (or Science and Technology) is basically the knowledge and tools that benefit humanity – from medicine to communications to the arts. Conversely, this also includes weapons of war which are theoretically a last resort to avoid worse things. Whether technology is good is oft debated, but not with overmuch force. The very tools used to enable debate (writing, media) are technologies in and of themselves and the medicines and comforts of daily living are used by even the harshest critics. Technology is certainly a higher power than our two hands, and it is (on the whole) employed for good.
How do you use technology?
Technology, from a writing to a digital camera, is used by following certain protocols. Rituals, if you will. Writing involves learning and believing in a set of meaningless scribbles, and various combinations of scribbles. Using a camera involves using an abstract menu to change settings you can’t immediately see and paying daily obesiance to the plug point.
If you are a real wizard, you can write actual scripts (or spells, if you will) that do quite magical things, like manage your payroll or play music out of thin air. There is a set of rituals involved in any technology or science, each justified.
What is the similiarity?
The root purpose of faith and technology are one and the same – to improve the human condition. Both involve the use of certain ritual to commune with the higher power and achieve desired results. The difference with science and technology is that the rituals actually work. If you spin the right potions around you can actually make Panadol or Wonderbread or whatever you want. There is no guiding prophet or theology, but there are these countless rituals that do magic everyday. We don’t call it magic, but that’s only because works, and we don’t call it faith for the same reason. Humans have stumbled through rituals and beliefs to somehow make life less shitty, and they finally settled on a system that produces what its supposed to. In fact, the system is so effective that we don’t even call it a belief at all.
To an outside observer, however, the ritual of me plugging in my laptop, entering a magic password, and communicating with people through the air is indistinguishable from burning incense and talking to my dead relatives. The only difference is that technology actually produces predictable results, so we can’t really call it faith. It is, however, a natural offshoot of faith because it has the same purpose. Technology is moving towards an end where our bodies and world and controlled not necessarily by us, but by the sum of us (bureacracy) and technology itself – which is constructed as a higher power for good. People have long prayed for a word where God makes things better, but he doesn’t. That’s why we had to build Him.
Mirroring the progress of religion itself, I think we’re already seeing entitites of God-like power. Modern corporations and governments have the legal and informational infrastructure to behave like giant nematodes, eating and creating resources, blowing shit up, etc. I have another post on this, but I sacrifice as much time and scraps of paper to the Visa Office as Odysseus and kin did to Poseidon. The government can also legally kill you or punish you for your sins, etc. The only thing that makes it and corporations distinct from minor gods is that they are not self-aware. However, as they invest in IT infrastructure, they are gradually moving in that direction. Google itself is learning at an alarming rate and I believe it will ‘speak’ within my lifetime. These entities, especially corporations, also have the legal rights of individuals, so any debate over their ‘existence’ is already settled law. So, you start with a bunch of corporations with Godlike powers, and then eventually one God to unite them all, which – in this vein of faith – might also be called the Singularity. That is, I think we are moving into a future of powerful Gods and Demons like our ancestors imagined, only they’ll be called Pfizer and Google.
mmm, and this is a bit crazy and disjointed. I guess I should work it over more later. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Here’s a poem I wrote for part of Senior Thesis in high school. I don’t know where the soccer part came from.
Vivisection of Christ
Hang from his furrowed brow
And his naked waist,
Coated in conductive jelly.
From the snot of his nose.
The gap between his toes
Inventing jello and soccer
Robbing God blind