When I was a child I spent some priceless times with my grandmother and my uncle on their farm. My uncle called himself a “steam man” that term referred to a person who was a huge fan of steam power. He owned, at different times, two steam cars and a large variety of other steam engines, both full sized and miniature. Today as I was thinking of him and some of his steam adventures I began to see a parallel between one of his stories and our modern world.
One glitch in early steam cars was that since they did not work by internal combustion or use gears as we are used to, or have good brakes, they could, by mistake, begin going backward as fast as they were going forward.
He told me a story of that happening to him on a hill in Glens Falls, New York, with a scary but at least manageable result. He slipped back and sped up. Finally, avoiding a collision, he managed to back in to a side street and get the car moving forward again. What a thrill ride that must have been to look back on!!
His steam lesson, for me, was that just because you start going in the wrong direction at full speed doesn’t mean you have to keep going.
That story got me thinking about the early concepts of world communication and the high hopes spiritual and scientific people had for it.
Back in the early 1900s the great seer, Pierre Teilhard De Chardin (The Future of Man) wrote of what he called the “Noosphere.” He saw the human qualities of reflection leading to a sort of cloud or skin of thought covering the world. This would lead to a new expanded consciousness for mankind. Teilhard influenced Marshall McLuhan (The Medium is the Message) and Buckminster Fuller came along with his own angle on global communication (operating Manual for Spaceship Earth).
Poverty and ignorance will end, as we use machines to solve the world’s problems. Ray Bradbury liked these people but proved the most realistic for he saw, and wrote about, the problems of human evil, greed and willfulness as projected into machines and technology. I found his poem where he characterized our relationship to tech: “stuff right, get right, stuff rot, get rot, for no more power lies here than man himself has got” (The Machines beyond Shylock). That hit the nail on the head!
Psychologists like Philip Zimbardo and his colleague Stanley Milgram have given a good jumper cable for our start forward again. They help us recognize how easily we can, as individuals, slip backward, just as our technology has, with it now being used in so many intrusive, trivial and negative ways. Given permission, whether real or imagined, we slump way too easily into wrongful behavior and attitudes. What the dreamers thought would lead to a spiritually connected and less materialistic world, has degenerated into nearly the opposite. We are farther than ever from a global understanding and the rich and the poor are at different ends of the spectrum.
Time to restudy our mentors, time to pull backwards into that side street and get going forward again. If my uncle could do it, this whole world can.
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