This is undeniably an age of technological miracles and wonders, but in between patting ourselves on the back over our big bandwidths, we may wish to remember another side of "progress". Nicely apropos is J. R. R. Tolkien's description (in Chapter IV of The Hobbit):

Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones. They can tunnel and mine as well as any but the most skilled dwarves, when they take the trouble, though they are usually untidy and dirty. Hammers, axes, swords, daggers, pickaxes, tongs, and also instruments of torture, they make very well, or get other people to make to their design, prisoners and slaves that have to work till they die for want of air and light. It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them, and also not working with their own hands more than they could help; but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far.

We're not cruel or wicked or bad-hearted. But, lest we become too proud of our progress, perhaps we should think on occasion about all our "Made in China" coffee cups and hand-held video games ... about the wonder weapons of modern applied physics that our taxes buy ... and about the uses to which we have turned miracles of information technology: the marketing of junk, the monitoring of formerly-private activities, the pandering of sex and violence for profit, and the buying of elections via ad campaigns.

Yes, there is a happy side. Technological progress has freed slaves, lengthened life, spread literacy, and brought hugely more of us to the point where we have a chance to think and learn and be all that we can be. How tragic then, to witness without shame or protest, evil applications of so many ingenious devices.

Sunday, June 06, 1999 at 17:36:40 (EDT) = 1999-06-06

TopicLiterature - TopicSociety

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