Some folks view technology as a sign of changing times. Of impending unemployment by displacement, ubiquitous colorful screens, a phone thats beeping and buzzing, makes you just want to give it a good chuck sometimes. But, you don’t do you? You can’t. Go ahead, pull it out and check again for updates. God damn updates. Silence is so rare anymore. I talk like I’m an old man. I’m 28. Damn near dead for a prehistoric man, but by modern standards, I’ve got a good 40+ years ahead of me for ‘Shares’, ‘Likes’ and ‘Pokes’. Whatever happened to ‘Pokes’ anyway? Do you have any idea how many server farms it takes to manage the friggin ‘Pokes’!? No wonder the aliens never land and say ‘Hello’. I can’t believe I’m typing this drivel.
Get on with it!
Myself, I feel that technology is any manipulation of our physical reality which serves to make life a bit more livable. We often envision gizmos and gadgets that whirl and beep, but the simplest thing such as a hand tool is very much technology. It is neither good nor bad, for such labels are superstitious, ridiculous, and rooted in ignorance. Technology is how human beings seem to deal with the world around us. The universe is a very hostile place, constantly ‘trying’ to kill us due to the fact that there are a wide range conditions in which it can be organized. Energy levels range from intense heat and radiation of a supernova to low level cold of deep space. Matter can be compressed to the singularity of a black hole or found as rare as an atom or two per cubic meter. Life has evolved within a very narrow range of these conditions in our corner of the cosmos, and has remained that way, more or less, throughout the history of life as we know it. This is by no means an accident. Not to say that a god or divine force cast away the demons and hostilty that the universe can produce; quite wrong. That’s just silly. Rather, life has shaped this planet into a home that is relatively stable compared to how it started. Sure, there’s hurricanes, tsunamis, droughts, plagues, and all other manner of nasty things that can come your way, but it’s still pretty nice don’t you think? I mean, trying living on the friggin moon. When we got started working this planet into shape, and I do mean we. Life. The ooey gooey sticky stuff smeared across the whole Earth that is all fantastically intertwined. When we got started on it, this place was a shit hole. Yes, I said it. It was awful. You wouldn’t last a minute. You would literally die within a minute. There wasn’t any oxygen in the air or sea. Death rays from the sun would shower down upon you, as there was no ozone layer. Rain would no doubt result in torrential flash floods as there were no trees or topsoil to absorb the run off. Let’s not forget the raining fire fall from space. And, there was certainly nothing to eat.
I won’t go too much further down that road because I’m not a planetary scientist. I’m just a truck driver with time to think. As I see it, life is what made life possible on this planet. It’s not that the Earth lies at some perfect distance from the sun (although I’m sure it helps), or that the planet formed as a perfect paradise for life to seed. No, it took billions of years for life to whip this planet into shape in order to make it a more hospitable home. Not for us as a species, that’s dumb. Instead, the transformation of the third rock from the sun into the EARTH is for the efficient increase in the entropy of the universe.
It’s a remarkably stable system until some worldwide calamity upsets it, such as an asteroid/comet impact, a super volcano, a solar disruption, or a silly overactive meme like industrial society gets a bit cancerous.
SO! I would like to take a lesson from the 3.8 billion year old research and development project that is life, and build a home that fits within the larger framework of the living Earth in a way that doesn’t cannibalize our cousins’ efforts, and maybe even contributes to the stability of the planetary system. A ‘living home’ could be thought of as a domicile that behaves like a simple single celled organism. It collects nutrients and energy from the environment, metabolizes these things and in the process, grows, multiplies, and perfroms a function within the larger organism; the Earth.
Grows and multiplies? A house doesn’t do that!? Sure it does, if you consider the occupants (people) as part of the house. The house, the grocery store, the factory; these are all just a technologies that humans have created to protect us, feed us, efficiently produce more technology, and in the process make our lives more stable and productive. These technologies are like an extension of ourselves. They increase our abilities. Ability to do what?
Well, I suppose that thousands of years ago, before agriculture, humans were an environmental control that kept the population of various species in check much as the wolf population and deer population keep each other in check. I’ve heard it also suggested that the hunting of buffalo and other rumens, pushed their populations across the landscape and back allowing their grazing lands to recover and flourish resulting in incredibly deep and biodynamic topsoils.
Many plant and animal species surely co-evolved with us when we selectively make choices in what to eat, exerting evolutionary pressures. This really took off with the invention of agriculture which has to do with the conscious realization that one could sow the seed of a useful or otherwise favorable plant and proliferate those characteristics. No news here, but we ended up with a surplus, stayed in one area rather than following the grazing herds, domesticated some of those animals, and started building better homes. Individuals became highly specialized at certain crafts, new technologies emerged, and the whole thing snowballed.
So, what’s our function in the larger living Earth today? Many species have so closely co-evolved with us that if we dissapeared, so would they.–bacteria in our guts, several plant and animal species. There’s that, but if we don’t serve the purpose of the larger picture, sustainable long term entropy growth of the Earth, then nature has a way of doing away with a failed project: extinction.
Nature is just a little slow to react to a threat. 10 thousand years of agriculture and 250 years of industrial society is a long time to us, but fairly brief in terms of the history of life and the evolutionary process. I like to think that consciousness is a matter of time scale. It took life billions of years to develop multicellular organisms, and it took humans 200 years to go from horse drawn carriages to drivinging on the friggin moon! The Earth has tolerated some of the less sustainable forms of agriculture and resource waste for some time, but maybe more recently the species has become a bit more malignant, and nature is starting to push back. HARD.
We build our homes out of the Earth, whether dirt, straw, brick, steel, or wood, it is Earth. I care not how smart you think you are, how sturdy you build your home; it will not protect you from what the Earth can produce. If you upset it, if you destabilize it, if you piss it off; it will smite your ass. That fresh air you breath, cool crisp tap water, and lovely autumn breeze, are not rights of mankind, they are privileges for playing by the rules of a game that started long before you walked the Earth. The universe has no empathy for your wants and desires, no pity for your discomfort, and no problem returning this planet to the violent shit hole it started as. What prevents that from occurring is the good fortune of a warm star, a quiet planetary system, and a rather complex thin film of machinery on it’s surface we call life.
I think it’s quite clear that humans are having a destabilizing effect on the Earth, but what would be a stabilizing effect? What could be our ‘purpose’? Not a divine purpose or destiny, more like: What was nature needing when it cooked us up?
Stewards. Yes, stewards of the Earth. Keepers of order, stability, and productivity. Human societies have driven many species extinct and destroyed many habitats, but have also demonstrated the ability to bring back species from the verge of extinction and help them flourish. We can nurse over logged forests back to thriving ecosystems. We can take barren, overgrazed fields and begin restoring fertility and top soil production through bio-mimicry. If we apply our cleverness for problem solving and rapid evolutionary design to the care and improvement of our life support system, there’s no telling how far we could go. I have no other word for that world, but heaven.
One final point. Life has this nasty history of being nearly obliterated by asteroid/comet collisions. It has no defense against this other than it’s shear diversity. A few resilient species always survive, but it’s a huge set back taking millions of years to arrive back at the level of complexity seen before the destruction. What if we could be the defense against calamity? I certainly think it is within the realm of possibility that the human species could redirect/destroy an asteroid, or at the very least make life more resistant to annihilation. Stewards……yes, stewards.