I just had to document what could easily be the nerdiest blog post I’ve ever written:
Since Havelock, Ong and Carey started in the past to explain the present (Ong deciding we couldn’t even describe the past while in the past but only after we had moved on to present technologies) I thought we should maybe look toward the future to address the connections made in the last three readings. What better future could there be than the fictional one embodied in Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Old Schoolers and Battlestar Galactica fans can work this out during class)
In the episode “The Measure of a Man” Data is put on trial to determine whether he is a sentient being and therefore not the property of Starfleet; or a machine and thus undeserved of the rights and freedoms allotted to sentient beings. Picard argues that not only is Data sentient but a “creation of our genius” and the lens through which Data is perceived “will reveal the kind of people we are and what he is destined to be.”
If the Greek alphabet, as Havelock suggest is the Alpha of “technology fused with human consciousness itself” (Ong) then I would argue that Data (or what he metaphorically represents) is the Omega. An android with a positronic brain, a computer that develops consciousness, would be humanities most poetic conclusion towards our relationship to technology. A relationship that began with the written word transforming our mind and the way we think. Like the printing press informing us; not just by the result of the implementation of its devices, but by rewiring our very ability to perceive mechanization. The telegraph “marking[ing] the separation of transportation and communication” making it possible for the penetration and mastery of time to coordinate the industrial nation. (Carey) Now at the dawning of a postindustrial brave new world we must ask ourselves: What is computer technology doing to not just our minds but us as “open closed systems, externalizing interiors, retaining [our] interiority inviolably in the act of externalizing, of uttering?” What happens when we deeply internalize computer technology, appropriating it into ourselves?
Ong warns of “the danger that instead of appropriating technology to consciousness we may appropriate consciousness to technology” and is “distressed to see otherwise sophisticated people fall into this simplistic trap, blindly and with a kind of joy.” Perhaps some people think that if disagreeing with Ong is wrong…they don’t want to be right? (sorry)
Which brings us back to our pal Data. Is there a future where human consciousness and machines blend together seamlessly? The computer technologies of today may be making it possible to blur the very lines between humanity and machine. Not that we will become more mechanized but that our machines will be a more artful interpretation of what it is to be human, our “life enveloping and enlivening the non-living.” (Ong) I guess all we can do is wait and see what the unfurling of new technologies reveals in us.