Libraries, Archives, Technology, Impending Doom
An odd thing occurs if one tries to locate Mount Sinai within a recent atlas – for that mountain of such storied import is no longer where one might expect to find it. Today, alas, if one wants to find Mount Sinai, one is better off looking in the direction of Silicon Valley where its rocky façade has blended seamlessly in with its corporate surroundings. What other explanation could there be for the way that so many of us mill around in the mountain’s shadow, waiting for a booming voice from that mountaintop that will precede the prophet emerging to once more tell us what we must do to reach the promised land?
It is a strange god whose words we await, and it is a questionable band of prophets whose messages we receive – a mad for mechanization Moses and a deity who goes by the broad name of technology. If many of those gathered at the foot of the mountain (some of whom are actually quite far away) cannot quite remember how it is that we came to be here, or cannot remember whether or not we reached this point after some form of exodus, than that is besides the point. What matters, we are assured by the priesthood, is that we are here now and at any moment Moses will return to us with a new smart phone model, wearable doodad, social networking platform, self-driving something, a plenitude of apps, or some other magnificent display of the technological deity’s power. We may not be certain where we were before we came to the foot of this mountain, but we are repeatedly assured that wherever it was, it was terrible.
No golden calf has been created at the base of this Sinai, for none was needed (besides, all of the worshipers’ gold has already been sent up the mountain). After all, those gathered have been actively encouraged to engage in idolatrous activity – treating everything that has been brought down thus far as worthy of endless praise: each new device a perfect miniature statue to which prayers can be addressed. A steady supply of disruptive miracles have filled the worshipers with delight, continually affirming the validity of their faith, and keeping them ever primed for the moments when the sky clears and the prophet steps out to make yet another pronouncement. Scattered headlines warn us that if we stray to far from this locale that we will be mired in the darkness of cloudy skies, but here we are bathed in the bright glow of the back-lit screen.
A cacophonous rumbling! A laser show of lightning! The quiet whir of a computer starting up! A voice in the crowd shouts “look!” and all eyes turn towards the figure emerging from the mountain – one of the prophets descending in a black turtleneck (or is it a hooded sweatshirt) gently cradling a new tablet computer in each arm upon the screen of which it seems that a list has been written in glowing type. The prophet holds the tablets aloft for all to see – there is a collective intake of breath – as the prophet clears his throat. All the assembled prepare for these Ten Commandments from technology to be delivered unto those who would bask in the light of the screen. After a few moments of carefully crafted appeals to the listeners, the prophet begins to recite:
“Now,” the prophet says, “everyone raise your hand to signal that you agree to these new Terms…”
The crowd stands stunned for a moment, slowly considering the commandments that have been pronounced. The prophet wears a calm smile, glancing to the other priests who nod in approval. But even if the comment largely goes unspoken a sentiment silently moves through the assembled host, perhaps a slightly reworked version of a comment once delivered by Eugene Debs: in looking for a Moses to lead us out of the wilderness have we wound up staying right where we are? In following one who promised to lead us to the promised land have we in fact been led further astray? Similarly some may begin to chafe at these demands of the faithful, perhaps pondering whether – as Lewis Mumford once wrote:
“If you worship a machine there is something wrong with your religion.” (81)
Yet the technological God whose priest delivered voice booms out from this Mount Sinai is a clever one – for it has moved beyond an exhortation to worship a single machine (that would be a golden calf) and instead demands supplication to the very notion of machinery. Some in the crowd scoff at the commandments, others begin to celebrate them, whilst most quietly assent and subconsciously incorporate these commandments into their daily duties.
And yet a murmur of dissent ruffles through the crowd.
After all, these terms of service agreements are starting to become rather ridiculous.
Mumford, Lewis. Art and Technics. Columbia University Press, 2000.
“if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out.” – Eugene Debs (original quote, paraphrased above)