05 August 2008

Bill and Ted (Two Different Ones)

Last night before band practice I was hanging out at my drummer's place and a few of us were watching some tv documentary on the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. To make a long story short, the Unabomber was considered "crazy" and labelled a "paranoid schizophrenic" (which I can't necessarily disagree with) because of his ideas and methods. Clearly, the show was biased in a manner that wished to reflect modern society as a positive thing and, despite showing pictures of smog and polluted streams, they failed to give an accurate representation of criticisms of industrial society. Frankly, I'm not shocked.
Now, most reasonable people will take issue with Ted Kaczynski's methods, as they certainly reflect his inability to socialize with other humans. However, many of his ideas about technological society hold water and continue to resonate today. When I got home from practice I decided I should read the whole Unabomber Manifesto, but I got distracted by another article I found. This one was by Bill Joy, Chief Scientist at Sun Microsystems, and featured in the April 2000 issue of Wired magazine. In the article he describes how he was confronted by some of the salient issues brought up by Kaczynski and his own role in the progress of technology. A particular focus of the article are the ideas of futurist Ray Kurzweil and his book, The Age of Spiritual Machines. (Since this article's publication Kurzweil has published another book, The Coming Singularity, whose premise I find absolutely horrifying and, given Joy's take on the earlier work, I think he would as well.)
As I think I've mentioned at other times on this site, I'm a supporter of scientific endeavor and not a complete Luddite, but I have qualms with those who view technology as a panacea for our societal and environmental ills. Technology doesn't solve our problems, it just changes them. For every problem solved a new one arises that did not exist previously. Making a new gadget makes life more complicated, it doesn't make it easier or safer. Things may get more interesting, but our fundamental questions remain the same (and in this respect I understand why people would follow religions, however ridiculous in premise). Call me a daoist, but I think that over the long haul, everything balances out even if it means extreme reactions (natural or artificial) become the force behind that shift.

Anyway, I'm rambling cos I'm at work and this is all off-the-cuff. I highly recommend reading Bill Joy's article and taking in what he says in there. Tonight my plan is to read the Unabomber Manifesto and put together some kind of response to that on here.

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