What’s in a name? May 13, 2013Posted by wendy in : Uncategorized , comments closed
The title didn’t make immediate sense to me: Tailings of Warren Peace. I thought it was some sort of play on Tolstoy’s War and Peace or maybe something to make you think of “tales of war and peace.”
Tailings are, according to Wikipedia, “the materials left over after the process of separating the valuable fraction from the uneconomic fraction of an ore.” In this case, gold. Warren Peace is a man from a coal-mining community in Nova Scotia, trying to escape his past by doing what all Canadians do under these circumstances: moving to Toronto.
What Warren does when he gets there is perhaps not so common. He, with his partner Curtis, repossesses gravestones—usually in the dead (sorry) of night, to avoid undue attention. In the daytime he reads on lampposts the serialized story of a young Guatemalan girl killed by the actions of a Canadian gold-mining company. By the time he knows the ending of the story, he is involved with a group of activists who want justice for the girl Lalita and others whose lives were destroyed when a company from a developed country—in this case, Canada—invaded their world and turned a land of mountains and spirits into a flattened Blakean hell.
The publisher of this newly released Canadian novel claims that it is “a powerful story of love and memory, exploring how the past haunts us and how solidarity can save us all. Mysterious, passionate and powerful, Tailings of Warren Peace shows us the interconnections that exist between us, transcending social class, culture and geography.”
Author Stephen Law calls it a social justice thriller. According to the blurb on the publisher’s website, Law is a writer, ecological farmer, and social activist. Experienced in conflict mediation and facilitation, he has been involved in campaigns to expose the effects of mining on communities in Canada and Latin America. For a year he served as an international accompanier supporting human rights activists in Colombia.
More than a murder mystery or a global tale of good guys fighting bad guys, the developing world destroying, yet again, a small part of what remains unsullied, this book is, to me, a story about the relationship between humans and their technologies. In Nova Scotia and Guatemala we see what happens when a technology dominates, even determines the community. The ways in which people socialize and interact are radically altered.
Mines are significant characters in the novel. As a boy Warren had watched his grandfather, a coal miner, slowly die of lung disease.
Warren flashed onto the bedroom, the smell of the bedroom. His grandfather lying on the bed, propped up under the family’s quilts, the ones made by the women who stayed above ground, keeping their hands moving while they waited for the bump to tell them about seismic shifts that covered and buried those who would lay under them. He coughed and coughed, night or day, he’d cough. You couldn’t drown out the sound, even when Warren stuffed pillows on his head, he couldn’t drown out the sound. It was raspy. He could hear his grandfather try to clear his throat, as if somehow that would be enough, and the phlegm would be dispelled and allow him to breathe air free of particles that came up from his lungs.
The air was poison to his grandfather. When Warren’s mom told him what was wrong, that his body had inhaled too much dust, Warren had taken to wearing a mask around the house and when he went to play outside.
We see not only how the community revolves around the life and death struggles of the mine, alert to its every movement, but how the mine affects the imaginings and sense of security of the children.
Celina, the author of her sister Lalita’s story, is haunted by the deaths of 15 Guatemalans who are killed when a tailings pond breaks its banks and the cyanide from it pollutes a nearby river in which children are swimming. Cyanide, used to extract gold from the rocks taken from the foreign-owned mine. We see how the lives of the residents are changed—many destroyed—by the presence of the mine.
The people who work for the mining company are also affected by the mine. In their compulsion to supply its needs, they commit heinous crimes and willingly offer human sacrifices to it. Mine as demigod.
The author asks us to carefully, thoughtfully, consider the work of our hands and minds. What responsibility do the owners of the mines—in Canada and Guatemala— have to the communities and to the people who work the mines? What value system should determine the method of extraction and the extent of the destruction of the natural landscape? How can efficiency, profitability, and sustainability be balanced?
High-tech soup bowl February 7, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, Uncategorized , comments closed
From FastCompany comes this piece on the Anti Loneliness Ramen Bowl (ALRB). As a look at the picture suggests, the ostensible purpose of the bowl is to allow people to eat their miso soup without missing a Tweet.
Taken at face value, this design would seem to qualify as a gimmick, that is, a design that is more clever than it is useful. Of course, the design may not be intended seriously. The article suggests that the bowl is, in fact, “a wry commentary on the complex relationship between food and phone.” Perhaps, then, it should be compared to Philippe Starck’s Juicy Salif. The JS is ostensibly a lemon squeezer but not a particularly good one (by most accounts).
Instead, the JS was deliberately made as a conversation piece and even a invitation to ponder your decisions as a consumer. (Do you want a useful implement to squeeze lemons or an artwork to show off to visitors? Why?)
So, is the purpose of the ALRBs really to facilitate (or even give you permission) to watch your iPhone while eating, or is it to invite you to ponder the secondary role that food occupies during wired meals? Let me put the question another way: Would you buy them? Why, or why not?
Printing guns October 2, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV202, STV302, Uncategorized , comments closed
In Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s play “Richelieu”, the main character says the famous words, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Today, the same line might say, “The printer can leverage more assets than the drone.” However, it seems that the advent of the 3D printer is about to undermine this bit of wisdom. The printer can now make the sword.
New Scientist and Wired both have stories about a project for printing guns on 3d printers. Cody Wilson, a law student at the University of Texas at Austin, is a part of an organization called Wiki Weapon. One of the goals of the organization is to crowdsource the design of weapons, such as personal firearms, and to provide open-source blueprints for people to use to build their own weapons at home. Cody had leased a uPrint SE 3D printer from Stratasys with a view to experimenting with printable gun components.
The company has revoked the lease and repossessed the printer.
“They came for it straight up,” Cody Wilson, director of Defense Distributed, the online collective that oversees the Wiki project, tells Danger Room. “I didn’t even have it out of the box.”
Statasys was concerned that making a weapon at home violates US law, and its policy is not to knowingly allow its printers to be used for illegal purposes. It is legal in the US for people to make weapons in their own homes, provided the weapons are not for trade or sale. However, weapons capable of being concealed are subject to review by the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agency. When Wilson queried the ATF, they said the gun would fall into a “gray area”.
People cannot yet print off handguns with their 3D printers. The kinds of printers that can handle the metals that would be required to print up something like a conventional firearm are not cheap. They cost on the order of £500,000 (ca. $810,000). In addition, the parts would require expertise to assemble properly into a working weapon. Of course, novel gun designs may, in time, help to overcome these limitations.
New technologies, such as 3D printers, always present the world with trade-offs. Libertarians may argue that the ability to print up handguns is an advance for people’s right to defend themselves. Others may lament that this ability will make it too easy for people to satisfy their aggressive, paranoid, or suicidal impulses. Naturally, as noted in the articles cited above, this new ability is not clearly regulated in law. What form should such regulations take?
Did we win? Did we invent that? Does it matter? August 15, 2012Posted by Scott Campbell in : STV404, Uncategorized , comments closed
So, the 2012 London Olympics are over. How did we do? Can’t we just count medals? Maybe.
Canadian athletes earned 1 gold, 5 silver and 12 bronze, for 18 medals. According to this common tally, Canada placed 36th, right behind Norway. Wait, hang on, that’s not what I saw here, and on TV, where I learned that Canada placed 13th. What’s going on?
It turns out that the common way of ranking is by the number of golds, followed by silvers, then bronzes. That puts Canada about halfway down the list of countries that earned a medal, nowhere near the top and nowhere near as exciting for the folks at home. So, some news outlets rearranged rankings according to the total number of medals, elevating the Canadian position. CTV, Globe and Mail, CBC, I’m looking at you. Others, like the National Post, The Toronto Star, and the local paper, The Record, used the other system. Also, lets not forget a third way to count things up: 3 points for gold, 2 for silver, 1 for bronze. That puts Canada in 19th, but not many people use that system.
This ranking problem is hardly a new issue. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Chinese athletes earned more gold (51) than any other country, and apparently some American news outlets switched ranking systems to total medals (100 for China, 110 for the US), having lost the gold medal tally (only 36 that year). This year, no problems: the US won on both tallies (46 golds, 104 total). At the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, Canada had the highest number of gold medals, so we won, except the United States actually had more medals total, so they also won. There’s a nice little blog entry over at the CBC hitting on some of these issues.
My favorite bit of ranking trivia for this year has to do with the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand. The Kiwis were doing better in London than the Aussies, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Australia. And so, from New Zealand’s Stuff.co.nz:
Many Australians are glumly contemplating their meagre – for them – haul of one gold, nine silver and four bronze.
So deep is the despair that official free-to-air Australian Olympic broadcaster Channel 9 avoided showing New Zealand’s charge up the medal table, which took this country [New Zealand] to tenth at one stage before settling at 12th by the end of the day.
Its medal table had only the nine top countries, then a gap down to Australia. And some pundits have suggested pooling the wins for Team Oceania, to save Aussie red faces.
So, how does this all this connect to technology? The Olympic nationalism reminds me quite strongly of technological nationalism, especially the kind that celebrates citizens as inventors of revolutionary technologies and tabulates lists of national technologies. In both cases, the effort can get out of hand as nations “adjust” the facts to suit their national narrative.
So, for example, one of the early stories during the Olympics was of Missy Franklin, a swimmer for the American team who won five medals (four gold). Though she was born in the United States and has lived there her whole life, it was hard to avoid hearing up here in Canada that her parents were Canadian and she does hold dual-citizenship, and so by progenitor proxy she was swept up in the Canadian narrative even if we can’t count her medals. Technologically, in Canada, we think of Alexander Graham Bell–the inventor of the telephone–as Canadian, so the telephone is Canadian. But the Americans think it’s American, and the Scottish think it’s Scottish. Bell was born in Scotland, emigrated to Canada, and carried out the actual inventing in America. As Bell himself delicately explained, the idea was conceived in Brantford but born in Boston. All of which sets aside who actually invented the telephone. Was it Bell, or the American Elisha Gray, or the Italian Antonio Meucci (or is that Italian-American?).
Nations can get quite fussy about national technologies. The Soviet Union was notorious for its lists of Russian inventors of Western technologies. Americans have not always been fond of European or Japanese cars. In the mid to late 20th century, Canada had a misplaced if widely believed self-image problem of being a bit of an un-innovative, conservative, branch-plant technological laggard.
Its all a little odd that the nation must be the unit of measurement when so much of technology and so much of sport is global–like the Olympics–or local–like the millions of organized leagues and unorganized pickup athletes everywhere. And so despite the cynicism we can level at the Olympics and the media circus that surrounds it, there is a little, even surprising, flame of hope to be found in the Olympic Charter: the Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries, and the International Olympic Committee simply does not draw up an official global ranking by country. So all those tables and rankings of gold vs total medals are just the jingoist exercise we all knew them to be and it is the athletes that matter, not the nations. (I’m just glad it hasn’t become the transnational corporate games yet, for while I prefer Coke over Pepsi I’d never been able to choose between Nike and Adidas. )
Twitter terrorism and terrible twits. January 10, 2012Posted by Scott Campbell in : Uncategorized , comments closed
Just before 2011 ended, two Twitter news items caught my eye: Twitter lawsuit threatened over alleged Hezbollah aid (CNN) and Police fight back against tweets that reveal RIDE checkpoints (Globe and Mail). The first article is essentially asking if Twitter is somehow aiding and abetting terrorism and terrorists. Apparently, several groups recognized by the US government as terrorist organizations have Twitter accounts with several thousand followers, and another group complained:
“It has come to our attention that Twitter Inc. provides social media and associated services to such foreign terrorist organizations,” Darshan-Leitner wrote. “Please be advised that (doing so) is illegal and will expose Twitter Inc. and its officers to both criminal prosecution and civil liability to American citizens and others victimized” by Hezbollah, al-Shabaab and other foreign terrorist entities.
I came across this news item via another website, where the discussion seemed to tend towards the idea that Twitter, like all technology, is neutral and cannot be held accountable for what people do with it. A terrorist might also find a hammer useful, but nobody is threatening Craftsman tools with lawsuits. This is a fairly common perspective among those with an instrumentalist view of technology: tools can be neither good or bad, the only values that matter are those of the people who use a tool and in how they use it for good or bad.
My take on this, however, is that Twitter does contain values. Famously, it promotes condensed bursts of information which are limited to 140 characters, rather than more lengthy bodies of text that can, presumably, carry more information with greater nuance, analysis, detail, reflection and so on. Moreover, anyone can use Twitter: an account is free, the software is free, and there are many different ways to access the social network without much restriction. There are no official moderators, and Twitter is a private company. Another value then is of freedom of communication, of a democratic technology with its users (or citizens) having a high degree of freedom, without central control or oversight. And so, Twitter is not entirely neutral. It is compatible, and strongly linked with particular and preferred views of the world. Certainly, Twitter would not exist in the same way without those values.
I see these values reflected in the second article, which describes the use of Twitter by civilians to broadcast the location of drunk-driving checkpoints:
On major holidays, Twitter lights up with a flurry of tips on avoiding breathalyzer-wielding officers. In the past month alone, users in several Canadian cities have set up accounts for the sole purpose of aggregating these tweets. Those who do it argue they are simply helping sober drivers avoid traffic tie-ups. Police say such actions could cost people their lives. They have little legal recourse, however, prompting one web-savvy Toronto cop to take to Twitter in an effort to shame people out of thwarting his fellow officers.
The article explores why an obstruction of justice charge would be legally difficult, though it goes unsaid that the police simply don’t have the power to censor or moderate Twitter accounts. Instead, they must join the network, more or less as equals with other users, and attempt to subvert the process by shaming tipsters, who soon acquire a number of brief Twitter-like labels: “dirtbags,” “losers” and “drunk driving fans.” Not only is the technology value-laden, but it encourages certain patterns of use.
I should think that similar analysis could easily be carried out with Facebook to demonstrate various built-in values related to personal privacy (or the lack thereof in the modern world).
Guest Post: Do you “like” Facebook? :) or :( October 17, 2011Posted by Scott Campbell in : Uncategorized , comments closed
Today we have a special guest post from an STV student! For personal reasons that will be obvious, they’ve asked to remain anonymous here.
I used to use Facebook fairly liberally in the past, but have now scaled back as I have come across the phenomenon of “Facebook Depression”. Facebook’s explicit quantitative indicators – the famed Like button – along with the comments that follow – or the lack thereof – can potentially propel a person towards depression.
On this social networking megalopolis, many users typically post photos, links, and updates about their social lives. I didn’t really post aspects of my social life, rather, I tried to encourage good deeds or foster knowledge sharing. In encouraging good deeds, I once posted a link about donating to a charity, and subsequently realized how lonely I can feel when people don’t Like or Comment on my links.
When I posted the charity link, I got Zero Likes and Zero comments. Zero. I received absolutely no support in this virtual space, and then realized that Facebook gives very explicit quantitative indicators of social support. By doing so, Facebook subconsciously makes you engage in “upward social comparison”, the age old idea of “Johnny got 100% on his test, and I got 80%”. Except in the case of Facebook, it becomes, “Johnny got 10 Likes, I got 0 Likes, Don’t my friends support me?”
Too much upward social comparison can potentially lead to depression, and in the case of Facebook, like my case, that is very true. It makes me feel that either people don’t like me, people don’t support me, or they’re not listening to what I have to say. Inevitably, this made me depressed, and I’m not alone in this observation. As this article points out, “Facebook can enhance feelings of social connectedness among well-adjusted kids, and have the opposite effect on those prone to depression.” To those prone to depression, Facebook’s quantitative indicators and social comparisons can make things worse.
I guess this is what happens when we transplant social activities onto the digital realm. You get an “in your face” number of Likes and Comments, and if that number is Zero, it can be a very painful feeling. Especially if you were expecting some support.
“Likes” on social networking sites or search engines or newspapers are all ways of quantifying what that was previously quite difficult to measure. However, as this person notes, these quantifying processes can produce unexpected and undesirable results. I’m sure there are benefits to the entities distributing and collecting “Like” buttons across the web, but there are costs as well, particularly to those people who might not measure up. Another way of putting it: if ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise…
Thanks to the student who contributed this observation. I’d invite any of our readers or STV students to contribute their own thoughts or ideas for future posts!
Electronic health records and the environment May 4, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : Uncategorized , comments closed
A NYT blog entry discusses the results of a study done by Kaiser Permanente about the environmental impact of electronic health records.
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
The study draws some interesting conclusions. First of all, you would think that a major reduction in environmental impact would come from the elimination of paper. If anything, the study suggests the reverse:
In fact, the researchers found that if electronic records simply replace paper records — without changing how things are done — the national impact would be to increase carbon dioxide emissions by 653,000 tons. (Or putting more than 100,000 more cars on the road.)
So, simply digitizing the existing system is not an environmental winner. However, an environmentally friendly result can be obtained by using the technology to change how people access the medical system:
The gas reduction comes from doctors using the electronic records and e-mail to answer inquiries from patients about simple problems, like mild side-effects from a drug or muscle strains, and thus avoid visits to a clinic.
“What stands out is the opportunity to reduce automobile trips,” said Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser’s environmental stewardship officer.
So, the environmental benefit would come not from digitizing health records per se, but from distributing their use over the Web.
This note puts me in mind of work by Edward Tenner. In his book, Our own devices, Tenner discusses how technology and technique interact. Technology, I take it, you understand. Technique comprises the ways and methods people use to employ technology. The arrival of athletic shoes, for example, changed the way that people run when wearing them, as compared to other sorts of shoes or going barefoot.
If the study cited above is correct, the environmental benefits that could flow from electronic health records will proceed not from the technology but from the techniques that people use to deploy it. Precisely what techniques those will be remains to be seen. One obvious possibility is the use of social media by doctors. Some doctors advocate the use of social media whereas others regard it as a bad idea.
Also, I cannot help wondering if the study took into account the environmental impact of the use of the Web that medical work would induce. After all, even a simple Google search has a (disputed) environmental impact too.
Smart cars February 4, 2011Posted by Cameron Shelley in : Uncategorized , comments closed
No doubt you know that cars are getting smarter. That is, cars are becoming more computerized each year. There are various reasons why, including:
- Cars with funky hybrid or electric drive trains need computers simply to function. Their complexity rules out a purely mechanical approach to design.
- Cars are becoming extensions of the livingroom or work desk. So, they need electronic entertainment systems to keep occupants amused and connectivity options to keep them productive.
- Cars are becoming computer network objects. Cars on the road can exchange signals and analyze road conditions via networks so that they can avoid accidents and plan routes efficiently.
- Cars with computers onboard risk rapid obsolescence. Therefore, the onboard computers need to be highly generalized and upgradeable. Essentially, wouldn’t it be nice to have an App Store for you wheels? Then, you would not get stuck with last year’s software under the hood.
Naturally, along with the advantages that computers bring come a train of problems. These include privacy, since networked objects tend to leak information like crazy (if past experience is any guide). Your car vendor, the app vendors, and probably many others may be able to track your whereabouts. And what about the police?
(KITT image courtesy of Magnus Manske via Wikimedia Commons.)
Then there are the security issues. We have already mentioned car hacking. Connecting your car to the Internet will mean that people can break into it without even being physically present.
Your car will also become more subject to intellectual property laws. If an app you are running turns out to illicitly contain patented code, it could be disabled remotely, as happened to owners of the EchoStar DVR player.
I suppose there are more esoteric concerns too. As cars get “platooned” into chains on the road, the occupants get “platooned” onto the ‘net. The feeling of autonomy that once was a major attraction of the personal automobile is lessened, in exchange for other benefits. Of course, with a built-in entertainment system, passive car passengers can play Grand Theft Auto as their ride conveys them effortlessly and heedlessly across the blacktop to their next appointment.
2010? Where did it go? January 13, 2011Posted by Scott Campbell in : Uncategorized , comments closed
Unfortunately, the list is spread across several pages, so here are the nominees:
- Stuxnet shows malware’s military power
- Kinect gets hacked into shape
- WikiLeaks spawns digital conflict
- Drone shoot-down demos laser cannon
- Is the body the best model for a green city?
- Your body as a touchscreen (as above)
- Robot punches people so it won’t harm us
- Ditch the 3D specs
- ‘Play 4D hologram, R2D2′
There’s some jargon here, perhaps an inevitability of both the topic and the nature of short headlines. Stuxnet and Kinect are new words for 2010; Wikileaks extends back several years, but only achieved fame (infamy?) in 2010. Lists like this are also fairly arbitrary, but why not include, say, blow-out preventers, electric cars or safer glasses for serving beer (well, I think I know why they missed the last one).
Something else jumped out for me. This CSTV blog was also launched in 2010, and nothing on the New Scientist list appeared on our blog in a substantial manner. I think Wikileaks was mentioned as an aside once, and military/surveillance drones were mentioned in passing. But none of the “biggest technologies stories” managed to cross paths with CSTV. Hmmm. There are a few interpretations that come to mind. One is that we here at CSTV are entirely out of touch and our blatherings are but the irrelevant rumblings of the ivory-tower eggheads.
My more preferred understanding goes like this: when it comes to studying, understanding and appreciating the relationship between society, technology and values, rarely is it a good idea to focus too much attention on the newest and biggest high-tech toys. How can we tell which are truly significant, even revolutionary, and which are the shiny distracting baubles? Can you really line every technology story up at the end of the year and say with any authority which was the most important?
Without hindsight, this is not easy. More than a few months worth, too. For example, there’s very little doubt that mechanical book reproduction and the printing press had an enormous impact on society; we’ve had hundreds of years to deal with (and study) the consequences of a particular German goldsmith’s invention: think of the broad improvements accompanied by improved literacy and the religious revolution of the Protestant Reformation. But while “The Social Network“, a popular 2010 film about the creation of Facebook, might be engaging how can we tell exactly how meaningful Facebook is? In 10, 50 or 500 years from now, will social networking websites still be said to have changed society? Or, for that matter, Kinect and 3D television? Not that I’m claiming that we here at CSTV have the prescience to answer these questions, but there is no shame in failing to agree on the top tech news of 2010 and I hope our explorations of technology and society interaction offer added value beyond random tech story compilations.
Is Humankind Natural? August 6, 2010Posted by J. Andrew Deman in : Uncategorized , comments closed
When Charles Darwin published his findings in `On the Origin of Species,`he actually mentioned very, very little about human evolution. In fact, most critics have suggested that he dodges the issue altogether, probably for the sake of avoiding controversy. So much for that idea.
Evolutionism — also known as Darwinism — has since become the foundation of modern biology. In spite of the religious controversy surrounding the teaching of evolutionism in public schools, it’s actually quite rare to see a consensus in the scientific community as total as the one surrounding evolutionism. To them, pi is more questionable, relativity more contestable.
Now, as dramatized in films such as Kubrick`s 2001: A Space Odyssey, most theories of human evolution center around our use of tools. This is our niche (in evolutionary terms). Our ability to use technology has provided our species with the power to dominate — so to speak — the ecosystem. Yes, the occasional bear will get through our defenses and maul a hiker and yes, as shark week testifies, occasionally a Benchley-inspired tooth factory will take out a surfer who made the mistake of paddling in a manner that too closely resembled a sea turtle. Humanity is king. I’m no match for a bear in a cage match, but give me an assault rifle and some hollow-point rounds and I win every time. The question, however, is: are we still natural?
We can’t exactly define “natural” so it’s a stupid question, really, but never underestimate the learning potential inherent in stupid questions. Are we natural? Are we still functioning within the basic parameters that biology (evolutionary and otherwise) lays out for all living creatures within an ecosystem? Conversely, have we transcended these models and are we now living outside them? Are we unnatural? Did technology make us unnatural?
It’s a phrase commonly uttered – mostly by luddites: “I don’t like it. It just isn’t natural.” The phrase comes up to describe email, in vitro fertilization, hair dye, you name it. It has been noted by many philosophers, scientists and even by a vampire from the show “True Blood” that mankind is the only species on the planet that destroys its’ own ecosystem. Fun to think about.
As they taught us in grade 10 science class, the typical way for an ecosystem to control the numbers of one life-form is through the tightly coupled nature of the food chain. If you have too many wolves and not enough elk, the food supply will run scarce and some wolves will die. Starving wolves means less predators for the Elk and their numbers will rise again. The circle of life continues. Wolves, however, never came up with agriculture, irrigation, or the high-density feed lot. Our numbers continue to swell. As they also taught us in grade 10 science class, the typical way for an ecosystem to control population numbers is through the outbreak of a disease. Simple math really: as any system gets too crowded with too many life-forms, they become increasingly vulnerable to epidemic. Epidemic wipes out a hefty percentage of the population, which then spreads out again and thus becomes less vulnerable to epidemic. The black plague is often cited as a good example of this phenomenon in human history. We don’t have to worry about that one anymore. Tetracycline. Problem solved. Our numbers continue to swell.
On the other side of things, it can be argued that we cannot escape our own naturalness (for lack of a better term). If technology is our niche, then we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to do: we can’t help it. Yes we burn down rain forests, but so too does lightning, and no-one calls it unnatural. In fact, massive destruction is an important part of any ecosystem. Maybe, as the agent in “The Matrix” tells us, we’re a virus – another perfectly natural example, as noted both above, and in my grade 10 science notes.
Michael Crichton once wrote something kind of interesting (that didn’t involve a dinosaur amusement park): we can’t destroy the planet. We simply don’t have the power. All we can destroy is ourselves…and whichever species get in our way. It is believed by evolutionary biologists (coming full circle now) that a catastrophic event radically altered this planet’s ecosystem once. The K-T extinction event (as it’s called) is the reason we can only see dinosaurs when Spielberg adapts Crichton’s more famous work. Who knows, maybe we’re a new extinction event, paving the way for whatever comes next. The reign of the super-cockroach, I suppose.
All of this is conjecture. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed by how much conjecture I’ve managed to squeeze into this, but I suppose that’s what blogs are known for. The question is the interesting part: are we natural? At the heart of this question is a real concern with the relationship between technology and human life. It should be obvious to even the most casual reader that I have no answers to this question and that I’ve probably just taken you on a very long walk to just about nowhere. Still, the best questions elude answers. Maybe that is what’s happening here. Fingers crossed.