( Monday, July 06, 2009 )

Remarkable Things

I'm not exactly sure why, but I tend to feel very unmoved by/unimpressed with/dispassionate about a lot of modern technology. I do realize, too, that I'm in the minority. A lot of people find the latest technological wonders mind-blowingly awesome.

Maybe it's because a lot of it is just common now. The amazing-ness of it all has worn off with its increasing normality. Don't get me wrong -- I think a lot of the modern advancements in gadgetry are fun. iPhones are amusing; video cameras that can only be spotted under a microscope are interesting; cars that talk to you are pretty smart and GPS is pretty helpful and shiny computers that turn on when they sense your unique body odour are pretty clever.

But on the other hand--so what? Really. There isn't anything deeply fantastic or unique or surprising about any of it. There's nothing epic involved, nothing that really shakes a person up. In fact, if you asked me, the fact that people will stand in line for a week (or pay thousands of dollars to get a spot in that same lineup) to be the first ones to buy an iPhone is much more remarkable than the phone itself.

That being said, there's a lot that does impress me. Here are five such remarkable things:

1. Human beings have been to the moon.
Yeah. The Moon. People--creatures like you and me--have physically left our planet, defied gravity and the atmosphere and everything mankind is familiar with, and visited another celestial body.

PEOPLE. LEFT. EARTH.

They went into SPACE.

The Big Black Nothingness.

Where no other human beings are.

They built a metal container, put some fuel in it, and went and landed on the FREAKING MOON and walked around. That's messed up. Think about it. I mean, really think about that. LSD couldn't possibly blow my mind more than that does.

2. Language.
Written and verbal. No matter how many times I think about it, I'm always astounded by the sheer feat of it. We take it for granted, of course, because it's so natural to us. But it wasn't always. It had to be taught to us. We learned it, this system of communication, and use it to make sense of the world.

It usually takes overhearing a conversation in another language to really make me appreciate the fantastic nature of it. When I hear two people speaking, say, Russian or Cantonese or 12th Century Latin, it sounds like gibberish to me. It's just sound. The same thing when I see it written -- there are shapes, arranged in a certain order, with some obvious structure and repetition, but it means nothing to me. Yet to someone else, who knows the language, who was taught it, it makes absolute sense. There's meaning in what I only know as gibberish.

Which makes me think seriously about the language I know. The sounds that come from my mouth (usually) make sense to others who know how to interpret and assign meaning to those sounds. Equally true with words -- you can read what I'm writing and understand it (hopefully) because you learned to assign meaning to the letters, to these otherwise arbitrary shapes, and to the combinations of said shapes, and to the overall structure of their arrangement. I can communicate with you because we both memorized and internalized an invented system of meaning. Unbelievable.

3. Flight (this ties in loosely with number 1).
As in airplanes. My friend Geoff always mentions this one whenever a plane passes overhead, but he's right. This metal tube--inside of which can sit anywhere from one to a few hundred human beings--is moving through air, with no physical connection to or support from the earth.

I mean, if I jump in the air, I immediately fall back down. I know, then, that air can't support me. But an airplane flips me the middle finger and proceeds to sail merrily through the air, not a care in the bloody world. And it weighs thousands and thousands of pounds. Up there. Floating on air. The same substance which I have already demonstrated cannot or will not carry my own weight. Call it science if you will, but I call it sorcery.

4. Taste buds.
I think taste is fantastically strange. There's really no practical reason for it, as far as I can tell. I mean, it seems like the only reason we have it is for the sake of pleasure. The problem is, if we only ate what tasted pleasurable, we'd all be 700 pounds and have an average life span of 12 years. Granted, some people derive pleasure from such abominations as brussels sprouts or--shudder--broccoli. But most people at least have some aversion to healthy foods, foods our bodies need, because our sense of taste is connected to our brains, and somewhere in the exchange of information our bodies scream in utter revulsion at what we've put inside our mouths. Or on the other hand, we take a bite out of a piece of pie and our taste buds send hot, embarrassingly sensational signals to our brains, which resound with a hearty thumbs up at the utter bliss bestowed upon them. Bliss or misery, all because of these attention-seeking receptors on our tongues.

5. The internet.
I don't think I really need to say much about this, because obviously we're all aware of how crazy it is, that I can, say, write this here in B.C. and Pavlov in the Ukraine can read it seconds later (assuming Pavlov can read English--but even if he can't, somewhere on the internet is a translation program that can solve the problem). But I can still remember life before the internet, so it seems that much more crazy to consider how big a part of our lives it is right now in light of its relative youth. I even remember the first thing I ever looked up on the internet: Toy Story. Come to think of it, that movie was downright impressive too.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Geoff Heith said...

6. Geoff Heith
His good looks, is rapier wit, is amazing sensitivity and compassion. What more do I need to say, I am blessed he calls me friend.

11:15 AM  
Blogger amberspoke said...

Hah. I agree, totally. Love it.

4:47 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home