Monday, May 30, 2011

Why Am I So Confused?

If there is nothing new under the sun, why am I so confused?

At about thirty years old most people have learned that the novelty wears off a “toy” very quickly.  There is no ultimate “toy” that will be forever new. If Solomon is right, there are no new “toys.”

Deep down in the pit of my philosophical heart I agree with old Solomon’s adage. The things we want, and the things we want to do, have not changed in their basic nature, nor have the basic tools by which we achieve them. We still must follow the laws of nature; we still must deal with human nature. The discoveries we herald from time to time are just that, discoveries of things that have always been, but which our limited senses had not yet perceived.

That is what confuses me, the changing perspectives. They have the look, and feel, and ring of something new. They require me to let go of the old before I have a full, firm grasp of the new. I hear the language change to accommodate meanings that confuse me, make me wonder if I’m the butt of someone’s joke. We are always in language school, relearning English as a second language.

A “portal” no longer refers exclusively to ship’s windows; now it is an intangible passage in the ether through which invisible cargo flows in bits and bytes and megabytes. A “cloud” is not an accumulation of moisture and debris floating above the earth; rather, it is a massive storage device where my zeros and ones are mixed with yours, but, in some mysterious fashion, they can be sorted out to let me know how much cash I have in my savings account without revealing to me, your business . . . well, most of the time.

We are told that knowledge is increasing – doubling, they like to say – at generational speeds; what I know, my son will not need to know, what he knows I have no hope of learning. So they say. But is it true? Are we truly creating something new? How different is a high-flying surveillance plane from a Civil War Hot air balloon, a drone missile from a stone hurled with a catapult, a distance, calculated by computer, from one scratched out in the sand? The goal and end are the same. The technology is the variable; mechanical eyes replace human eyes, combustion takes the place of counterweights and tension bars, zeros and ones in a high speed computer take the place of yes and no in a human brain.

It can all seem so new, so confusingly new! But it can also seem boringly the same. That is what old Solomon discovered after a life spent “tasting” every new thing his mind or heart could wish. If all our technology were to vaporize today we’d be left with the same needs to fulfill, and we’d find ways to meet them just as amazing as those we marvel at today. We would marvel then at the ingenuity of man as he recreated his world to do the same old things in the same old ways.

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