The arc of mankind has taken a huge upward shift in terms of technology. That doesn’t mean people are generally smarter. (Lots I could say on that point.) But technological capabilities keep expanding, altering life at such rapid speed on so many fronts. I enjoy contemplating these changes and what they mean for us. I feel a kind of wonder at it all, though I’m also scared as heck. I don’t think we understand what to do with new power and options.
For instance, we’re in a transformative moment in terms of video technology. Think about this. Virtual reality may turn sports entertainment into a truly remarkable experience in the next few years. Cable and satellite services are dying, just like many other industries, including print. As this happens, new Internet options fill the gap for consumers, even as they crush long-standing jobs. Imagine sitting in your living room with a virtual reality headset on. You have the option of viewing plays at Sanford Stadium from a virtual control booth of cameras. One is at the 50-yard line; another is at the end zone, another at bird’s eye view. A couple are attached to players, maybe both teams’ quarterbacks. You are virtually in the game. The cameras are 360 degrees. So if you turn your head, it’s like you’re there. A set of headphones lets you hear just the crowd noise in stereo, as it sounds on the field. Or you can switch to the commentary from announcers, but only if you choose it.
The porn applications of virtual reality are pretty obvious. I’ve heard that voiced pretty often, but until a week or two ago, I had never really given thought to how watching a Georgia football game on a screen could be a vastly different experience in a few years. I would love to watch Georgia/Alabama in such a way. I bet many would. There’s a market for it. I predict that the demand will be filled at some point. The technology is probably less an issue than the contractual obstacles. I believe there are people already trying to make this virtual reality an actual reality. So, yes, more fun is on the way in certain regards. I like that.
But I’d give up such advancements if possible to avoid all the dark sides. I feel technology has risen and put us in a sweet spot of human history: automobiles, medicine, efficient mass food supplies. I could go on and on with what I see as good fortunes for you and me in this modern age. We lucked out. Honestly, I really feel this. We are so lucky in so many ways.
But I do feel we’ve crossed to a new phase of that sweet spot, and I’m not convinced it’s going to stay so sweet.
For instance, the notion of “deepfakes” feels absolutely apocalyptic to me. If I can convincingly take your image and make you do anything I want, then all truth is dead. I just made you confess to murder, or child molestation, or I put your face in an actual criminal act, replacing the perpetrator. How handy for criminals. What if all video evidence goes from being our best truth to our worst kind of lie? I don’t think humankind can cope with this. We want to believe our eyes. We’re all wired that way. If the technology exists to lie effectively in video form, then what? How does anyone prove or disprove anything?
I’m going to stop right here. I could give many other alarmist examples about technology outpacing our common sense. You see it too. So, what to do?
Honestly, who knows? But it seems sensible to respect certain old ways of doing things, because we may need to use them again when the large deck of technological cards tumbles. Also, it seems important to recognize our good fortunes. We need to see where things have advanced in good ways, and we need to fiercely hold onto such things — like vaccines. We need to be cognizant of ways we as individuals can be played by a system that is moving faster than us. That requires study and education. If you don’t want to be played for a fool, it takes more and more work not to be a fool in this complicated time.
As I said, I feel grateful to live in the sweetspot of human history. I also am keenly aware that the sweetspot is a fragile thing requiring the attention of leaders — but especially our citizens. It’s the citizens that matter most — that old ethic of personal responsibility and fiercely trying to educate ourselves on what’s what. It’s not an easy task, especially in an age where reality itself can be manipulated.
But I’m eager to put a headset on and watch a Georgia game from the sideline while sitting in my recliner. I’d pay for that ticket — at least once.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.