For tens of thousands of years, human beings lived very closely to nature. In fact, much of the existence of early humans was a struggle against nature. For most of the course of recorded human history, one of the greatest forces mitigating against human survival was, collectively, nature. Flood, drought, wildfire, pestilence, plague... these were the things which laid empires low and drove armies back into their own territories. But in the last hundred years or so, an unusual thing has happened. Instead of struggling against nature, we now struggle against our technology.
Technology was how humans began to combat nature. Fire brought light to darkness. Sharpened stones and pointed sticks gave early humans tools to fight against predators, to take their skins and bones and use them to build shelter. Fire and ores yielded their metals, making sharper weapons, better tools. In short order, human beings, through the use of techology, did unimaginable things to the world.
There is a price, however, even in advancement. Who has not now learned to feel slightly helpless when the internet connection goes down, if your mobile or landline telephone fails, the lift is stuck between floors, or when the cable television goes out? People are now reliant upon these things, to such an extent that their absence is more than a mere inconvenience: lack of some devices present a serious detriment to how well we live our days.
And as, in most cases, we don't necessarily understand enough to fix these devices, the sense of helplessness when they go wrong is almost palpable. Perhaps "almost" is sugar-coating the question. It is a real sensation, a digging at the guts that feels like the gnawing of rodents. Skin grows clammy and cold. That cold shiver crawls up and down the spine, as the realisation dawns that, yes, you may have to do something on your own. Or do without.
This is the dilemma of the modern world, nowhere more starkly played out than when a car suddenly and unexpectedly fails.
As my vehicle has done exactly that, I'm fairly confident of my mastery of the topic (he says, ruefully).
We've had some good times, my car and I. We've driven to Minnesota and back, on countless expeditions of exploration around the state. It was the first car that I bought and drove around in with my children. It was the car that I had when I met my wife, when we used to commute back and forth across town to see each other. And, with some expected exceptions, it has been largely trouble-free. But after doing nearly 175,000 miles, a couple of seemingly routine maintenance needs quickly ballooned into something unmanageable, and unreasonable for an eleven year-old car. The replacement cost versus new cost equation, as compelling as the calculation based on various interest rates, make the decision for you sometimes.
Ironically, today's death knell falls on the anniversary of the announcement of ENIAC, the first general purpose electronic computer (compared to the devices such as those from Bletchley Park ( Wiki | Official Site ), which were intended as code-breaking devices). With the introduction of the computer, ostensibly a labour-saving device, have our lives really become that much simpler? Granted, it is possible for scribblers such as myself to routinely publish these random screeds to an indifferent audience, but does that really make the world a better place? Much like the utility and world-changing nature of all our other technology, that is a question which I will leave you to answer in your own time, and in your own way.
For my part, I think that once this car disaster is over, we will go home and try to enjoy ourselves... technology free.