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HOW COMPUTERS SAVED THE WORLD AND DROVE US NUTS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF MAN AND MACHINE

Like a great many websites lining the Information Superhighway, at bobcrespo.com we try to be civic minded virtual citizens by providing all sorts of free information and services, whether or not anyone sought it. We all now have the means to learn everything there is to know about copper rivets, Collared Peccaries or building a meth lab in a school locker, not exactly fascinating fields of study for most of us, but people send you this stuff and you absentmindedly read it or view it in the vague hope it will be entertaining, and before you know it you know more than you ever wanted to know about King Olav IV of Sweden.

The world is changing faster than our ability to adjust to its new realities. You may find yourself dreading every Steve Jobs press conference, seemingly designed to expose you in particular as being hopelessly behind the times and unlikely to catch up as he calmly informs us that that last gadget you couldn’t make heads or tails of 3 months ago is now completely antiquated. The Information Age can be pretty abrasive to the egos of the tech-challenged.

Ages of Man used to unfold slowly over many centuries, changing only gradually, all but imperceptible to individual generations of men. This went on until somebody stumbled upon Fire, Bronze or Iron and then we’d start a New Age of Man based on these substances. The Ages overlapped a little bit, and the first people to embrace each New Age of Man with it’s newfangled substance were generally considered heretics, sorcerers and/or madmen. As such they were either shunned, deported or slain in sacrifice to some God or another until finally one of them figured out how to make a better weapon, and then they and their God were in charge of the New Age.

In this way the peoples of the Earth were distributed, with those having the better swords and spears inhabiting the choicest, most hospitable and productive real estate, while those slow to embrace the new technology were relegated to becoming the bitter, wretched inhabitants of the deserts, frozen barren wastes and malarial swamps of this world.

No one willingly moved to the Sahara Desert, but it was either that or becoming slaves of the Better Weapons People and put to work building them pyramids and luxury condos while some sideways-walking Egyptian overseer with an attitude laid in on thick with the cat-o-nine-tails.

And so it went throughout history; slow, imperceptible changes in the fortunes of mankind, with nations and empires rising and falling, different tribes taking turns living large in lush valleys or languishing in barren heaps of rubble raising scrawny goats, until the invention of ocean-going vessels and camels brought traders to nearly every remote outpost of humanity.

Disparate cultures and civilizations communicated, intermingled and swapped ideas and material goods, always a prelude to sending in the Marines and attempting to eradicate said disparate culture and their crazy ideas, and then stealing all their material goods and enslaving the survivors. Nothing says “My god is tougher than your God” like putting the enemy king’s severed head on a pike and taking his wife and daughters as your concubines.

Where traders go, conquering armies follow, and The Age of Navigation and The Age of Walking Thousands of Miles Across Asia Behind Ornery Camels eventually ushered in the The Age of Colonialism, a chance for filthy, inbred and ignorant European kings to reinvent themselves as a combination Julius Caesar/Alexander the Great simply because they were about 20 years ahead of the rest of the world in Weapons Tech.

This was a Glorious Age For Europe, with even the tiniest slivers of reclaimed sea beds masquerading as nations like Holland claiming Vast Empires Carved Out of Other People’s Countries. For the conquered lands, not so much with the glory. Civilizations were destroyed, national wealth and natural resources stolen, and billions subjugated in the name of God and King.

It seems both the Iron Age and the Age of Navigation weren’t kind to those slow to embrace their new technologies, and over the course of several centuries, the world was transformed into enclaves of Haves and Have-Nots, with the Have-Nots being in the vast majority, but powerless to change things while the Conquistadors had all the cannons.

Then somebody stumbled upon Factories and The Industrial Revolution was born, with the resulting machinery transforming daily life for the better in a matter of a few short decades for the Haves, and Raining Mass-Produced-Slaughter on the Have-Nots as each generation of weapons grew larger and more deadly. This had a fairly traumatic and decidedly negative impact on the daily lives of most people.

To say that the industrial Revolution didn’t work out equitably for all would be a huge understatement, even in the victorious nations, where millions of citizens labored in conditions resembling Dante’s 9 Circles of Hell in order to provide sturdy wrought iron gates for the castles of their “betters.”

Then a couple of bicycle mechanics from Ohio got this brainstorm that men ought to be able to fly and Bingo!, the Age of Aviation flew in. Never a people to take a beneficial gift at face value, humanity thought how much better it would be if these new flying machines could also kill a lot of people, and within 40 years a whole bunch of the Great Cities of The World were bombed from the sky until Europe and Asia was dotted with Great Smoking Ruins, the work of many centuries destroyed, 60 million killed and a world gone mad.

The Age of Aviation became The Age Of Blowing Stuff Up in a Really Big Way when enterprising scientists collaborated on freeing the almost limitless power of the split atom (another potential bonanza for humanity that we fucked up completely) and turning it into a weapon that could lay waste to an entire city and all its inhabitants in the blink of an eye, a chore that used to take guys like Caesar and Napoleon the better part of a year to accomplish.

And like any other weapon, why build only one when you can build thousands and thousands and thousands of them? Before long the world was bristling with nuclear warhead-tipped rockets like some earth-eating porcupine, with of course only the Have nations owning these things while the Have-Nots cowered in fear hoping that the Haves wouldn’t kill everybody on earth 10 times over like they tried to do during World War 2. With so many itchy trigger finger fingers on so many nuclear bombs, it seemed as if the Final Age of Man was upon us, The Age of Kiss Our Asses Goodbye.

Enter the computer. Cooler heads in the countries with all the nuclear weapons (The Haves) figured out that they weren’t any good as anything but deterrents since their enemies had them too, but were very worried about the many psychotic hotheads in their respective ranks flying off the handle and launching nuclear missiles in a fit of pique. That just would not do. They needed a way to figure out how to keep on building bigger and bigger bombs, but also a way not to launch any of them! Why kill the Golden Goose of Imperialism for everybody?

And so the Haves Nations installed computer filters in their weapons systems, providing several complex layers of safety codes, entrusted to several different individuals, between the insane rage necessary to blow up the world and the actual doing of it. Miraculously, the Cold War came and went without a single nuclear weapon being fired in the heat of anger, in no short measure due to the Fail-Safe protocols and their computer-enforced cooling off period.

Not only did computers help humans not blow up everything on earth, they also helped us send a bunch of guys to the Moon. Of course to accomplish this, those house-sized early computers had to be greatly reduced in size to fly into outer space, and so silicon chips were invented, things were super-miniaturized, and the Space Age was launched. That Age flew by in in a matter of decades, or until we hit the Stop Sign of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

That spoilsport smartypants Albert Einstein explained that nothing can travel faster than light, not unless we invent some shortcuts through the space/time continuum. Until someone yells “Eureka” in some physics lab somewhere when they invent the Portable Black Hole, The Space Age is on hold until we can figure out how to reach the stars in under 10,000 years. For the first time, an Age of Man was born and died within individual people’s lifetimes.

Not to worry. It seemed that we were so pleased with our computers for not blowing the up the world and getting the Space Age started, we decided that these would be neat things to have in every home, sort of like a toaster that does something other than burn your breakfast. And so the Personal Computer was born and then the cell phone, and then Youtube and Spam, followed closely by laptop computers, phones smarter than we are, and iPads, whatever the hell it is that they are supposed to do.

The Information Age is upon us with such an unrelenting vengeance that some of us reeling technophobes are calling it The Too-Much-Information Age, and frankly losing touch with reality. It is not uncommon to find us accosting random teenagers on the street and begging them to come to our homes and teach us how to deal with our high tech devices.

They tell us to hang on for a year or so and the necessary learning chips will be installed directly into our skulls, giving the term “personal computer” a whole new meaning. While on the face of it this sounds absurd, signs do point to a New Age of Man approaching more swiftly than ever, a time when these ultra-powerful computers and communications devices will be miniaturized to the point of near-invibility so that the only way we can handle them is to have them installed in our brain synapses.

Of course now we have to worry that our speed of thought will never be swift enough to accommodate these super-fast devices, and hope against hope that we don’t end our days building pyramids for our modern Pharoahs from instructions Tweeted into our brains by the High Geeks, while those who have mastered the new technology will be laying around eating peeled grapes and conducting orgies behind their sturdy gates.

On the bright side, maybe the computers in our brains will do us the same favor it did for the Cold Warriors and put a few roadblocks in our path to warfare and ruin. And maybe even send a few more of us to the Moon.

This has been a special history report from bobcrespo.com on exactly what happened.

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