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Science fiction authors of the 1940's and 50's like George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov wrote their books about technological dilemmas such as automation (robots), information technology, and technologically influenced utopias (or depending on the reader, dystopias). Charles Allen once said that "if the human race wants to go to Hell in a basket, technology can help it get there by jet." In the era of the mentioned authors, technology was a new and exciting idea, and the concept of technology causing so many problems was far from their minds. Today, however, our lives are practically dictated by technology.
Ray Bradbury and George Orwell were more frightened of the endless possibilities of what humans can do with technology. In 1984, George Orwell wrote of a future where people didn't know what privacy was because the government used the art of spying to gain control and acceptance. The government watched the actions of its citizens from the moment they were born until the time of their death. Protection from surveillance was impossible because all technology was owned by "Big Brother." Besides that, how can one miss something they've never experienced? If you were born without a finger, do you really miss it? It may be useful, but if you've never experienced it, how do you know you're actually missing out?
We face the same conflict today, almost fifty years later. Our government uses all kinds of surveillance to keep track of its citizens, from satellites in space to cameras mounted on telephone poles. Although it's highly unlikely that total privacy has been taken from us, the concept is possible. When Orwell wrote 1984, he wrote of a foreign idea, not realizing that we are experiencing excerpts of his book in 1999. It's almost sad, in a way, that our government has taken a piece of one man's imagination and applied it to everyday life. Who's Big Brother now?
Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury, is set in a society where the written word is strictly forbidden. Firemen of the future are required to set fires, not put them out. They are required to find houses, buildings, basically any place that contains the forbidden books.
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Censorship has been around since the beginning of the written language. Of all books, Fahrenheit 451 is one of the most commonly banned book across the country. Books are censored because of its content, whether it involves something sexual, of a violent nature, etc. Ironically, Bradbury's book has been banned in schools because it's about the act of banning books. The question is, what are we protecting ourselves from? The fact is, each censored book has an important story to tell, and since no one is allowed to read it, we are that much more in the dark.
Technology is highly accessible today. If you don't own a computer, the public library is open to everyone and you can have free access to the Internet. More and more businesses have found that going online has increased profits. Why is this so? Many families are dual income, and people just don't have the time to shop anymore. You are now able to do your grocery shopping, get recipes, buy compact discs, and even check how well your stocks have done, all at the touch of a mouse. When you think about it, eight track tapes were the new thing for a while until the cassette showed up in stores. Now CDs are the thing, and while cassettes are still available, their not the "in" thing to buy. The new mini discs are pushing their way in front of CDs, and pretty soon...micro chips. Remember the big video cameras? If you wanted to tape your baby's first Christmas, you had to whip out this big thing that took up your entire shoulder and it weighed what felt like a thousand pounds. Today's camcorders are light and hand held, with instant replay and color viewing.
Jacque Fresco, an inventor, futurist, industrial designer, and human factors engineer, and his associate Roxanne Meadows have been working for many years trying to create a utopia free from life's social ills such as unemployment, crime, violence, poverty, hunger, and population explosion. Their plan, the Venus project, is a blueprint for a new world civilization based on human values and environmental reclamation. Fresco proposes that the project will "dramatically reduce crime, poverty, hunger, homelessness, and many other pressing problems that are common throughout the world today." The foundation of the Venus Project is a social system in which automation and technology would be applied and integrated into a social design where the main function is to maximize the quality of life rather than its profits. For example, in the communities, the outside perimeter of each city will include recreational facilities available to everyone. A waterway will surround an agricultural belt which will house multitiered gardens and other improvements to feed people. Other areas will utilize clean and renewable sources of energy like wind, thermal, and solar energy. Houses will be designed from reinforced foam concrete which is resistant to fire, weather, insects, and animals. There will be areas in the center of the city designated for art, music, exhibition, entertainment, and conference centers. All facilities will be available to everyone, and will run like libraries, where you check a resource out and return them at the specific time. By way of automation, computers could maintain the water table, soil chemistry, and coordinate the planting and harvesting of crops. Sensors are also available to report the breakdown of primary systems to backup systems. The sole purpose of this society is to "free people from boring monotonous tasks and make available a high standard of living and more leisure time to spend with their families and loved ones" (Fresco).
The Venus Project does not seem like a bad idea. Who wouldn't appreciate extra time to engage in something they enjoy with the people they love? It is similar to societies depicted in movies like "Star Wars" and "Star Trek." I would imagine that shifting to a more technological world might add a few undesired pressures onto people who aren't cut out for programming computers and machines like their profession requires. Many men and women opt to study a vocation like plumbing, carpentry, or beautician, not just because they like it, but because they are not college material. If a society is forced to be run by machines, where do these people come in? Too much freedom could also cause a problem for some people. What about those who spend their time in bars, getting drunk to escape life's worries? Or the kids who have extra time to go out and get high? It may seem unrealistic to think of the extreme possibilities, but sometimes, you need to think about the unthinkable. There is bound to be a group of people who don't find arts and sciences very appealing and would rather sit in front of a television instead.
In the book Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, Ender is a six year old boy who has been deemed the savior of Earth after he beats the "buggers" in what he thought was just another war game. Technology has a great impact on warfare. The whole idea is that superior technology wins wars. Modern methods of warfare rely on technology, particularly that of computers. Computers are important to every advanced piece of weaponry, and are also vital for communication. The US military has long since used flight simulators as an effective form of training. This method saves money and lives, and allows the introduction of a multitude of scenarios and hours of flight experience without getting into an aircraft. A development team at Quantico has a written a modified version of the game Doom 2. This game has the ability for multi players, where the players train in teams of four on a simulated battlefield complete with trenches, foxholes, barbed wire, and camouflaged enemies.
While using simulators and video games like Doom and Quake are beneficial to the training of our military, these games are readily available to our children. Unfortunately, children do not realize the harmful side effects of war and violence. In fact, kids in the 90's have been brought up on such disturbing things and have therefore immunized them to all the blood and gore. These games and even some cartoons have desensitized children. In Ender's Game, Ender entered battle school as an innocent little boy, and came out less emotional and almost desperate to be the boy he once was. It is the abuse of technology that is a major concern. "A hammer can be used to construct a building or to kill another person. It's not the hammer, but how it's used" (Fresco).
Robert J. Sawyer is a science fiction writer that believes that with technology comes the end of culture. Of all people to, in effect, denounce technology. His argument is that with technology, culture crumbles. The more choice we have, the fewer of us will make the same one, and the fewer things we share. He uses television as an example. Television started out with three stations. Chances were that a third of you class saw the same program you did at eight o'clock the night before. A few years ago, we had fifty channels. The possibility of having someone to talk to about what happened on the Cosby Show had decreased, but if it was popular enough, you'd find somebody. Nowadays, there's not only cable, but satellite television as well. There's the Food Network, the Gameshow Network, USA, MTV, GAC, ABC, HBO, the Family channel, MSNBC, and many more. Not to mention cable access, where everyone under the sun can have their own show. "It is possible to have too much of a good thing: when everyone is a creator, who will be left in the audience?"(Sawyer).
Asimov, Isaac. I, Robot. New York: Bantam, 1991.
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Penguin, 1949.
Fresco, Jacque. "The Venus Project." Futurist Online. 7 March 1999.
Roland, C. "Warfare Technology." Technology May 1997: Online. 7 March 1999.
Sawyer, Robert J. "Technology and the End of Culture." Science Fiction Writer May 1997: Online. 17 Feb. 1999.