The Worst Thing That Could Happen

4 Sep

Hope your Labor Day was as nice as mine! I spent the weekend off-grid at a girl’s beach weekend. I offer a pensive post today, in keeping with the somber mood of the end of summer and the dreary weather here in the A.

Over at The Economist’s More Intelligent Life, a handful of writers and thinkers offer literal answers to the usually rhetorical “Big Question”: What’s the worst that could happen?

Famine is the favorite, followed by war (particularly with China), which is seconded by the majority in the user poll. But I’m intrigued by the suggestion of Irving Wardle, one-time theatre critic of the Times and the Independent on Sunday.

There is a gut sensation that, while we were looking the other way, something essential has been extracted from the cultural heart and is either being sold back to us in a debased form or has vanished altogether. […]I foresee a pincer movement of theft and coercion in which we shall be petrified in attitudes of compulsory happiness—like those gladiatorial victims who had to hide their faces behind grinning masks as they were cut to pieces.

Interesting theory: that the greatest tragedy might not be a quick slide into global devastation, but a slow and willing death march into emotional oblivion. Wardle essentially asks whether it’s worth living in a world that is technological superior (and presumably peaceful), but bereft of beauty and authenticity.

He aptly quotes Max Frisch that “technology is the means of controlling the world without experiencing it.” I read that as controlling our own individual universe, which, without our realization—and worse, with our inherent permission—is drained of all that is genuine and refilled with colorful, plastic approximations of reality.

I find this the most frightening and the most compelling answer because it seems the most likely to happen. They say machines are only as smart as the human that controls them, and that’s true. Also true is that technology is a ray of light in the hands of those devoted to “the free exchange of information.” But the fear is that the relentless pursuit and worship of the next big thing (and the almighty dollar) could quite possibly, in the end, obscure everything important that we already have.

How would you answer? What’s the worst that could happen?

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