Google, The Internet Search Engine God, has purchased Titan Aerospace, a drone and "atmospheric satellites" manufacturer.
Visit the Titan Aerospace website and you will find the following message (I like to imagine hearing this over an intercom system, spoken in soothing tones by a female AI):
"At Titan Aerospace, we’re passionate believers in the potential for technology (and in particular, atmospheric satellites) to improve people’s lives. It’s still early days for the technology we’re developing, and there are a lot of ways that we think we could help people, whether it’s providing internet connections in remote areas or helping monitor environmental damage like oil spills and deforestation. That’s why we couldn’t be more excited to learn from and work with our new colleagues as we continue our research, testing and design work as part of the Google family."While I know paranoia and conspiracy theories are typically an unhealthy path of thought, I can't help but be slightly disturbed by this news. Perhaps my reaction is merely resultant from being raised on movies like The Terminator and The Matrix, because I honestly don't see how we're not headed toward a war with the machines.
And I'm not being the least bit ironic - any humor injected into this post via gifs and quips (supplied by Google Images and my consciousness) is because it makes it easier to face such a reality - something I'll criticize later on in this post.
And such a possibility of doom and gloom in a future entirely dependent upon advanced machinery, despite seeming probable, is so completely wrapped up in popular fiction and entertainment that the notion itself has been safely removed from reality. It seems like pure science fiction.
But so did the wheel (I'm sure).
So did Television.
So did phones and lights and cars and microwaves and The Internet.
When I first read the headline on IGN that Google had purchased a drone company my immediate reaction was a terrified, soft spoken, "Why?"
When I read the answer (providing internet to remote areas), I nodded in understanding, as that seems a novel idea. And my reaction to the word "drone" is likely negative because of the way such technology has been used over the past decade.
But despite attempting to dissuade myself from fear, I inevitably see this as possibly one of many steps we've already taken toward an unhealthy reliance upon technology in a culture becoming increasingly inept at basic skills.
The fact that we've freely offered up our private lives in the form of social media, cameras (both inside and outside our homes), and tracking devices (cell phones) is disconcerting, to be sure, but more for what it might mean for future generations than what it means right now. And that's the catch. Technology seems safe, fun, easy, exciting, and even promising, despite having already unleashed unheard of, entirely unnecessary horrors upon this fragile planet and the many species that call it home.
Today, our reliance upon technology and the effect it has on our lives is seemingly harmless, at times, even beneficial. Our attention span may have shortened a bit, Facebook knows what to advertise each individual user based on the information that user willingly provides, entertainment has become more readily and speedily available (at a frightening rate actually), and good manners and kindness may have taken a bit of a hit.
These effects are deceptively meagre. We are becoming an increasingly uninterested, unengaged culture. As a result, not only have we found it increasingly difficult to relate to one another in reality, we've found reality itself far less captivating. We spend more time looking at our phones than we do the sky. We spend more time writing emails than we do having conversations.
The affect this has on the world at large is disastrous.
What brilliant work of art will be inspired by a BuzzFeed article or an IGN user comment or an ironic reading of Poe in some Brooklyn dive bar?
Not only do we become less capable of interacting with each other, less able to handle the problems the real world inevitably brings to our doorstep, we become increasingly incapable of individual, abstract thought, and creativity.
Our worldview shifts towards one that, at face value, is innocuous and little more than a lessening of interest and intelligence, but is actually one of destruction.
In his book The Question Concerning Technology, German philosopher Martin Heidegger describes one of the great mental and moral mistakes mankind has made as Gestell or "the enframing". He argues that human beings have, due to their arrogance, "enframed" or "framed" nature as something to be used (standing-reserve). Our perspective is so disconnected from reality that a tree is not a tree. A tree is future pencils. A tree is future paper. The earth is not the earth. It's oil. You can see the disconnect, hopefully. Because a tree is a tree. The earth is the earth.
Today, this terrifying Gestell-notion extends beyond "raw-materials" and infests our very experiences, more specifically our minds.
A night out is not a night out. It's a Facebook picture. Playing video games with your friends is not playing video games with your friends. It's a gameplay walkthrough to be posted on youtube. A first sexual experience is not a first sexual experience. It's a Tweet.
Coupled with the sarcasm, irony, and snark of our privileged culture the notion of being alive itself is turned into a kind of distant barb, a running joke that becomes more and more meaningless every time it is told.
A life is not a life. It's a catalogue of "experiences". Suddenly the experience itself is meaningless. It's the result (a documentation of that previous happening) that carries the significance. In this way no one's life has any meaning until after the fact.
Our minds become clogged with future Tweets, future Facebook status updates, future Instagrams. We no longer have pure experiences of our own lives. We are living, constantly, through a third party, and that third party is typically a profile of some sort that digitally represents an inaccurate perception of self based on what we believe others want us to be.
The further removed from reality we become, the more difficult it will be for future generations to perceive and even anticipate potential problems or catastrophes.
Many, myself included, who watched the images of The Twin Towers' destruction on September 11th (through the television) described it as "like something out of a movie". In order to process that horror we had to distance ourselves from it, understanding it through a more comfortable fiction.
That is not healthy. The horror is lessened. The reality made fiction, and so we never really processed it or dealt with it. Something that should be impossible to manage in one's mind gets tucked away in the pop-culture consciousness - a series of horrifying images on a screen. To deal with this tragedy, we were told to go shopping. And we did. And two wars followed, wrecking havoc on our economy and an entire generation of the post-graduate workforce.
The distancing effect technology has had, and will continue to have at an accelerating rate on future generations, does not bode well for how those future generations will cope, process, and comprehend the reality around them. This environment encourages apathy and nihilism. It permits a fundamental disconnect from the world we inevitably rely on to sustain us.
And that's what's so terrifying about something like a search engine company buying up drones technology.
Why does Google really need that?!
Certainly Google and Titan Aerospace may have good intentions.
But consider these words from Alan Moore's The Killing Joke:
“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That's how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day."
All it takes (as history has shown) is a few bad decisions by a few powerful people, over time, to fundamentally change the face of our perceived free and forward-thinking societies.
I can write this blog and post it without fear of Gestapo breaking down my door and burying me in a prison for the rest of my days.
That's a good thing.
That's a logical thing.
No one should have to live in a world where that's actually a possibility. It's not sustainable, doesn't make a lick of sense, and only benefits a few egomaniacal, incredibly flawed and probably insane men. And most of the world seems to be catching on and finally understanding that. Most of the world wants to be happy.
But that doesn't make freedom (even the perception of freedom) any less precious.
For no reason other than the fact that human beings are fallible, emotional, and desperate for guidance, powerful societies have proven time and again that concepts like "freedom" and "inalienable rights" are terribly precarious.
We think, right now, that we've finally figured things out, that there's no way we'll devolve into a dark age. Many of us believe such won't happen simply because that turn of events is not economically feasible. That is utterly naïve and a thought only permissible in the society we live in.
We're only as free as the powers that be permit.
Over the course of just a few years, a blog post such as this could be illegal. Fifteen years from now, those in power might see that this blog exists, and even if I'm in good standing with society, it could get me black listed or worse, tossed in jail.
For all our American, advanced, socially conscious posturing, we must recognize how precious and inevitably uncertain our current state of pleasant, seemingly free malaise really is. And the generations that are being bred into such a state are growing increasingly docile, increasingly incapable of asserting any sort of individual power over what could very easily become a police state.
I am not in the least suggesting we take up arms or start building bunkers or anything of the sort. That camp is just as, if not more infuriating than any other. They want things to go bad. I desperately want things to get better.
I am merely arguing that we comprehend how beautiful and precious our current state of existence is, for all its flaws (especially those who are privileged enough to write and read blogs). We would be wise to be skeptical, not necessarily paranoid, and continue to ask questions of those in power and of those companies that seek to increase their scope. Like Google. With its drones.
We must educate ourselves and keep our ears and eyes open.
A series of interconnected drones and balloons hovering in the atmosphere, observing all, is nothing particularly new, but the fact that Google, a deceptively simple, fun, pop-culture defining company owns such technology is somewhat distressing, regardless of their intended purpose.
The words "Google" and "Drones" don't seem like they should be in the same sentence. And they probably shouldn't. It's not much different from Wal-Mart buying drones...which they probably could with the intent of more efficiently delivering you everyday low prices.
It would be nice, however, if instead of doing things simply because we can, we actually stopped and thought about it.
Maybe there should be some places in the world where The Internet's reach falls short.
Maybe there should be some places where the anxiety-inducing atmosphere of ever-present technology is purged from our systems.
We have no way of knowing what Google will become thirty years from now and we have no way of knowing what other companies will secure such technology and what it will actually be used for. It's healthy to question the motives of such companies and remain informed of their actions given the potential misuse of the technology they posses.
The primary reason for keeping informed is that so few people actually understand the technology they use today. We drive cars we don't understand, we hold batteries against our heads, we operate machinery that is essentially running by way of some inexplicable magic. Ignorance combined with power is a breeding ground for a massive catastrophe, so all we can do to guard against such a thing is remain aware of what those in power intend to do with the technology we know nothing about.
More on this from Carl Sagan:
Future generations - even current ones - indoctrinated into such a techno-based society at birth will think nothing of drones hovering over their heads at all times. And that frightens me.
Those of us who still remember the days when phones had chords and when the entire family had to use that single, tangly contraption, are typically unnerved at the fact that Facebook knows their favorite type of Starbucks coffee. We're unnerved by it because we're conscious of things like "invasion of privacy" and the warnings of George Orwell and other science fiction prophets.
But do teenagers today care what Facebook knows about them? Do they care that ads for bridesmaides dresses start popping up in their newsfeed when one of their friends is getting married? Can people even create any kind of internet profile (a necessary custom nowadays for anyone wishing to do anything online) without agreeing to an extensive, typically unread user agreement, almost always guaranteeing the sharing of information with third parties?
Take this comfort (or willing ignorance) with such technological invasion to its natural conclusion, and you have a society fairly devoid of individuality, privacy, or even a desire for such things.
I doubt there's an underground bunker with a roomful of men in black suits pulling the societal strings to create such a world. I think the likelier and more horrifying explanation is that we're doing it to ourselves, slowly, over time, without recognizing it.
And we're allowing it to happen simply because we want to love ourselves, we want to watch good television and good movies instantly, and we want a lot of friends without the need for messy emotional interactions.
We unconsciously recognize that being a human being is difficult. Existing in reality is painful. And we're tired of that pain. We want to push it out, at the expense of true pleasure, true insight, and the true beauty reality has to offer.
We're allowing a cell phone to be more spectacular than a sunset. And that is terrible. Because the sunset simply is more spectacular.
And it always will be.
Do not follow @MaximusWrestler on Twitter. Hug someone (pets and selves count) instead.