I dig Warren Ellis. Not in a I want to have his bald-headed babies kind of way, but Ellis is near the top of my list of favorite writers. I haven’t read everything he’s ever written, because he’s written a lot of words, but I’ve read a fair bit of his stuff. I’m particularly fond of a little comic he does called Doktor Sleepless.
Doktor Sleepless takes us on a relentless tour through the dystopian future of Heavenside. There are no flying cars, and no jetpacks, but people do have contact lenses that let them keep track of (and communicate) with their friends, their is a pharmaceutical for every occasion, and modifying one’s body with technology is taken for granted. Heavenside is us run rampant. I might not have an instant-messaging system enabled contact lens, but I have a cellular phone that can access multiple messaging networks, take pictures, play music, and uplink to a GPS satellite. With a touch of an icon this little device lets me see the musings of people half a world away; people I have never met, and who have never even heard of me.
I’m not all that old quite yet, and when I was younger these sort of things were strictly the stuff of science fiction. Yet, despite how quickly things like cellphones have come to prominence, how many times have we stopped and really questioned them? Oh, I don’t mean just question whether or not they are useful, because they certainly can be; though on the other hand we managed to live just fine in a pre-cellphone world. So if we’re not questioning their utility, what should we be questioning?
How many cellphones are responsible for car accidents? How many of us have had a conversation interrupted so someone could answer their phone? These sort of questions could go on, and these are the easy ones. How many of us have really, and I mean really, stopped to consider the fact that without ever putting anything into our bodies, by letting them put a cellphone into our hands we have made changes to ourselves? It’s an important question, and one that seems to be set aside in favor of novelty and utility. That isn’t living philosophically. Hell, I’m not even sure it’s really living.
Maybe the changes that callphones and similar technology have made in us have all been for the better. I certainly won’t deny that our quality of life has been vastly improved by modern science and technology. Hell, I’m even a big fan of science. What I’m saying, is that when we are introduced to something we should ask hard questions about it. Please notice, that this does not include silly, already answered questions, or making ridiculous claims along the lines of vaccines causing autism, or cellphones causing brain tumors. We have answers to those questions, and the kind of people who go about crowing about conspiracies are ignorant, irresponsible, and unethical.
I’ll let an excerpt from a 2007 post by Mr. Ellis sum up the kind of questions we should be asking:
You are never going into space.
You will never own a jet pack.
Your car will never fly.
HIV will not be cured in your lifetime.
Cancer will not be cured in your lifetime.
The common cold will not be cured in your lifetime.
Don’t these things bother you?
Yes, Mr. Ellis, these things sure as shit bother me. They bother me because most of us never think to ask, or we ask and then let it go. How often have we stopped to consider that this constant influx of devices to make our lives easier, to amuse us, might just be a 21st century version of Rome’s bread and circuses?
I own a cellphone. I own a decent computer with a high definition monitor. I own a Playstation 3, and a PSP to go along with it. I like technology and gadgets, so I’m not going to tell you not to buy them, or that you should throw away the ones you have now. What I am telling you is that you should always, always ask yourself why you need it, and what accepting it into your life will mean. Not only that, but even when we buy what they are selling we should never stop asking “Where’s my fucking jetpack?”. If we continue to refuse to engage with the material of our everyday lives in a critical and reflective fashion, if we continue to simply take technology for granted… well, we might have cellphones in our brains, and nanites in our blood, but we’ll also be living in Heavenside sooner than we think. We’ll be living in Heavenside, and I still won’t have my fucking jetpack.