Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Machinery disconnects us from nature

Commentary by Jim Banholzer


Friends used to laugh when my dog snapped at approaching vehicles while she perched in the back of my truck. As we traveled through Idaho, the rule of the road for Maddie was, the bigger the rig, the harsher the snap it was going to get.

In her sweet little heart she sensed that something was amiss with man's road design. After all, aren't we the crazy ones slowly becoming used to having tons of steel speed within inches of our faces every few seconds? We pretend that faint, painted line will keep us secure. Maddie never ignored this apparent impending doom, but to keep sane we do on a daily basis.

Becoming more engrossed in a mechanized society, mankind begins to lose touch with the natural world. Since the early industrial age, sons have less often learned secrets of the great outdoors from their fathers while growing up beside them in fields. Anymore, many dads disconnect while going off for long periods to mysterious work places that do not allow family visitors even one day a year---and come home strangers, too dispirited for quality family time. Prozac, so prevalent now that traces are now turning up in drinking water, attempts to heal the effects of this. But money and pills thrown in wrong places don't cure root problems.

One of these shrouded work places must be a steel building of the USGS. In a room sealed off to protect the latest instrumentation and scientists from fresh breezes, a government scribe discounted the possibility of animals predicting earthquakes. (See his words at )

By now most of us have heard how many animals and indigenous people survived the Indonesian tsunami in December by running to higher ground when they sensed that something bad was about to occur. When a huge avalanche comes bouncing down onto Warm Springs Road, I only hope that nobody will be home "in the zone" and that pets inside will be attuned enough to come darting out of their doggie doors in the nick of time.

As man increasingly praises the information-overloading machines he shackles himself to he starts to suffer from high definition hypnotism. Critically updating time saving devices increases the scrutiny artificially intelligent tracking systems gain over your every blessed keystroke or whisper. Buy a new automobile now and you'll likely get an event data recording device as standard equipment. (Can these measure the fierceness levels of onboard dog snaps?) The international distress signal set off by an Oregon man's new television last year should be heeded as a warning to us all.

Bedazzling marvelous monitors distract us from seeing simple beauties contained within the same room. Windows to the unlimited soul through a colleague's eyes could be waiting to be peered into—only five feet away.

Twenty years ago two equally physically fit men traveled the Appalachian Trail. Beginning simultaneously, one man walked while the other ran the whole distance. In his journal, the man who ran reported much pain and often had nightmares about how he was falling behind. The walker, on the other hand, enjoyed more satisfying days with quality time to stop, look and listen at what the trail had to offer. The walker even finished first—and in more ways than one! The man who ran alienated many of the same animals that the walker had spiritual encounters with. Some say that in his great rush to run over rocks from Georgia to Maine, the runner attempted to separate himself from nature by morphing his body into a machine.

Eighteen robotic machines are ready right now to rumble into the hell Iraq has become. While saving some lives, these droids will also be trampling underfoot some of Isaac Asimov's highly regarded "Laws of Robotics," in this battle which will fuel further machine madness.

If we sleep through the legal process, or are out distracted attending to other machines, fighting robots will soon gain rights to kill human beings in self-defense on war battlefields! What further powers will machines eventually develop over us—turning us into their puppets? Many are already insured for a higher monetary value than are humans. The steam shovel John Henry defeated just before he died was highly insured by robber barons while John Henry held no family health insurance plan!

As they become more sophisticated, will the chicken catching machine's some factory farms now employ be upgraded by some country for degrading people and follow those first robot "defenders," salvaging human parts for profit in unspeakable ways? Eerily, this reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode when Earthly cryptographers deciphered the Alien's book "To Serve Man" as the creed of a cookbook. In true Serlingesque style, perhaps the first robot will develop a sense of shock and awe, flipping its wig switch when it sees a hospital patient refuse a needed transplant because he suspects the organ to have come from the enemy he hates so much!

Take a breath of fresh air now. If you're only concerned about your own neighborhood, in the short term the worst thing likely to happen around here is somebody being tasered by a soda machine on their way to play Frisbee-Golf. Temper! Temper! From then on Wood River humanoids, if you're considering retaliation for being shortchanged, better to purchase a mellower blend of organic drink from the cashier whose register merely reminds him to smile. Returning his smile, you can show you're glad because your Frisbee doesn't kick up much "depleted" uranium dust in your new playing field—while your dog snaps at the earth for no apparent reason.

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