I must start out with a confession: When it comes to technology, I’m what you might call a troglodyte. I don’t own a Kindle or an iPad or an iPhone or a Blackberry. I don’t have an avatar or even voicemail. I don’t text.
I don’t reject technology altogether: I do have a typewriter—an electric one, with a ball. But I do think that technology can be a dangerous thing because it changes the way we do things and the way we think about things; and sometimes it changes our own perception of who we are and what we’re about. And by the time we realize it, we find we’re living in a different world with different assumptions about such fundamental things as property and privacy and dignity. And by then, it’s too late to turn back the clock.
When I think of new frontiers on the internet I’m reminded of a science fiction story I read in college by my favorite SciFi author, Isaac Asimov. It’s called “The Dead Past,” and it goes something like this: Scientists have invented a machine called a chronoscope that can be used to view any time in the past, anywhere in the world, but this technology is strictly regulated by the government. Historians try to get licenses to view ancient Carthage or Rome, but government bureaucrats churlishly deny most requests based on mundane considerations of cost and convenience. So a frustrated historian teams up with a frustrated physicist and a frustrated journalist and together they reverse-engineer the chronoscope. They are eventually apprehended, but by that time the journalist had sent the plans to half a dozen of his news outlets; the secret is out and can never be retrieved.
And there, in the closing pages of the story, Asimov explains why the government had been so secretive about this invention: