Books Reviews

There Are No Androids Just Electric Sheep

By: Robert Bermudez

electric sheep

It has always been a crazy world – do not let anyone tell you different. Confusion, uncertainty and outright chaos have been more the norm than the exception since Adam and Eve strolled around that famous garden. Even a cursory glance through history will show this to be true. As a great line in a famous movie once said our brilliance has gone hand-in-hand with our idiocy.

I would guess, then, that it is no wonder I never really subscribed to all the glorification of the past and lamentations about the present that are so prevalent in society. While sharing the same warm glow of nostalgia we all get when looking backwards, and feeling that same sense of things “making sense” in the simpler long ago, I recognize the “good old days” as much more of a mythological creation than anything approaching the reality of how it really was. Be it personal memories or a generational description of time and place, the world is the same as it has always been; it is our perception that is distorted. The further we get from the source, the greater the distortion, it seems. Like that tee shirt that says “The older I get the better I was”. Indeed.

And yet…

I must confess that the past few years there has been a creeping suspicion, at times bordering on uneasy certainty that maybe this time in our history is unique, that there has been a game-changer, if you will. There is a new element now in play – actually, it has always been there in one form or another, but never so all-encompassing, so inescapable, so manipulative. I speak of modern Technology, of course, and definitely with a capital “T”.

Perhaps it should all be capitalized. In bold print.Italicized.

Yes, technology has always been with us. One day, many moons ago, some impatient Cro-Magnon, wanting a faster way to get from here to there, found himself a big stone, grabbed his chisel, created the wheel, and we were off and running. Along the way we invented things to build with, add with, fight with, tell time with and eventually plant a flag on the moon with. We have used it to give us thrills, make us more efficient and do tasks requiring strength and stamina beyond our mortal limitations.

That said, never in all that time – not even the Atomic Age of the 1950’s or the heady 1980’s of the Space Shuttle – has Technology been so much a part of our everyday lives. Never in our entire recorded history has nearly everything we seek to do depend on or require some form of Technological phenomena. Even ordering a pizza hasn’t managed to escape unscathed by the tidal wave of Technology.

This is not a good thing. For the first time I am starting to think those “good old days” folks may be onto something after all. More than that, I am not sure this runaway train is stoppable. Deep down I fear it isn’t. The rewind button is permanently broken. So is the pause button. This is not a good thing at all.

The late sci-fi writer Phillip K Dick wrote almost exclusively on the theme of Technology running amok. A brilliant talent unjustly confined to cult status until his very last years, Dick was certainly no optimist. His futures were dystopian and dark, and Technology misused and uncontrolled had made it so. Mankind had evolved intellectually but not morally, and the result was a world often barren of humanity and run by soulless technocrats. Be it the mechanized weapons of war turning on their creators in “Screamers” or the robotic replicates wanting to be human in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, the creation had become the creator and the result was a pervasive nihilism. To be honest, it was great reading but depressing as all Hell.

I bring up Dick and his frightening vision because, while it may be shrugged off as the ranting’s of a cynic or the product of a dissatisfied life spilled out on paper, it seems suddenly more relevant now than ever to me. It amazes me how science fiction has given us warning after warning about the future consequences of our current recklessness for generation upon generation and we still do not listen. It is as if we are being shown an oracle’s vision and we continually choose to ignore it. It is all right there, the golden opportunity to change directions and stop the madness before it is too late and we continue to blunder along our path of folly unheeding. Greed, hubris and amorality are a deadly cocktail.

This all brings me back to the thoughts that are so prevalent in my mind lately. I look around me and, more and more, I see the possibility of Dick’s dystopian future. While our creations have not taken over yet, nor have the creations become the creators, the way Technology has crept into every corner of our modern society is becoming a real concern. As I stated above, when even ordering a simple pizza involves apps and androids – all necessary for more “efficient” service of course – something is not right.

Everything is digital now. Everything seems to involve the internet. Everything is now done online. Everyone is on their cell phone all the time. I mean, you cannot tell me they have something important to say every minute of every day! Everyone is staring at their phone constantly. So much so I sometimes wonder if the next step in our evolution will be a phone attached to our hand permanently. Every restaurant has an app to order ahead of time. People even control their heat and air conditioning with an app on their phone miles away from their house. Turn on their washing machines and televisions with apps from work.

It is shocking when you stop and think how inundated we are with the digital world. It has gotten to the point where you never speak to a live human on the phone anymore but an impersonal robot incapable of interaction beyond programmed data. Watch a group of youngsters in a group sometime. I usually see five or six standing around, each looking at their phone, interacting by not interacting. Then again I see adults in their fifties doing the same thing. I wonder if any of them even see the way having your attention solely focused on you has become the normal way people “get together”. I doubt it.

All this has now put us as a society in the unenviable position of mass dependency. If you are under twenty and all you know is the world as it is now, how exactly are you going to function when the entire way you know how to live is interrupted, even collapses? The only way such young people know how to interact on almost every level is through Technology. I wonder the culture shock when they have to actually not have a cell phone in hand. I can honestly see reactions from stultifying boredom to crippling helplessness. A world without Technology to them might as well be 1900. That this can really only be said of those under twenty shows the speed at which the world has changed with the onslaught of Technology, which is much faster than we can process it as a whole nor deal with its inherent dark side. It is like an out of control car careening down the freeway at eighty miles per hour and we are standing on the side of the road watching.

To me, all this equals the first steps towards a society of complete mechanical impersonality. When life becomes a video game and people literally just another cog in the machine things like empathy, compassion, humanity begin to die. That is happening as I write this and it shows no signs of slowing down.

All these things, while unfortunate and unhealthy, are not the worst part of the way modern Technology has the potential to make “Blade Runners” a living, breathing tableau. They may be a collective slouch towards indifference and a sure sign of the insane speed of our modern world, but they are not nearly as troubling, even frightening, as the truly nefarious means Technology would be used for in Dick’s techno nightmare. This is when Technology hides, in the dark, just below the surface, not quite able to be seen, not even able to be pinpointed exactly, but still there and as real and as powerful as ever. Call it Big Brother or the Electric Eye or Satan if you want, but whatever you choose to call it it is watching you.

I speak here of privacy. There is not much anymore and soon, if Technology keeps barreling along, there will be none. You can bet that someone, somewhere, knows everything you did today. It is that damn digital world again. The World Wide Web. The Cloud. The Internet of Things. It is all there, the “digital footprint”, telling someone, somewhere what time you turned on your phone, where you bought gas for your car, what you ordered for lunch, how much money you spent, what you have in your bank account, who you voted for, where you live – hell, your blood type and shoe size. I bet some drone has a bead on me right now, sitting on my porch, writing this. I am sure one day soon you will be on someone’s radar 24/7/365. Even ordering a pizza with pepperoni to go on your android app.

You know whoever controls this controls you. Controls your life. Because life now is Technology. Now. Imagine what it will be in ten years’ time. Twenty years. Fifty years. Myself, I shudder.

Then again, we don’t have to imagine, do we? It is all right there, in the words and images of dystopia and future darkness. Words we ignore and shrug off as they slowly but surely manifest themselves each and every day more fully. We can see the future but are incapable of doing anything about it. What happens when we finally realize it only when we are standing in the middle of it, all around us, controlling us, not the other way around?

Somewhere, I bet Phillip K Dick is nodding sadly. There are no Androids. Just Electric Sheep.


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