Definitely ambivalent

Author: Kerry Temple ’74

Back in 1970, seven or eight of us Farley Hall freshmen would eat dinner together every night. But first we gathered to watch Star Trek reruns from 5 to 6 p.m. I wasn’t happy about that. I was hungry and the dining hall stopped serving at 6:30 and the food choices were often depleted when we got there. Plus, I wasn’t a fan of the show.


I’ve never gotten into science fiction. I never cared much for futuristic predictions. I never got excited about space-age wonders, rocket-ship adventures, brave-new-world prophecies or sky-is-falling hysteria. And I’m not enthralled by the latest technologies in smartphones, social media and all that comes into my home by way of what I still think of as TV. I’m rarely tempted by the gadgets and inventions hailed to make life easier and better for the human race.


Of course, I do like my microwave oven, my dishwasher and instant replay. I love my iPod. I’m happy to have a flush toilet, anesthesia, heat in the winter and cool air on hot summer days. Writing on this laptop is far better than crafting stories on a typewriter as I did for years. I love driving my car. On smooth-surfaced highways. With good food and gas at every exit.


And yet.


And yet the automobile has done serious harm to our urban landscapes, altered the way we live and fouled the air we breathe. The machinery that has powered a thriving economy and burgeoning industries has made tasks easier and provided abundance, but has also put thousands out of work and bled toxins into our lives. Time-saving devices that promised convenience and leisure have largely resulted in more harried and stressful lifestyles. Advances in medicine and health care have enabled our species to flourish — and to overrun the planet. Our creations have always brought a measure of bad along with the good. Think fossil fuels and nuclear power.


We humans have a hard time stopping ourselves. The compulsion to discover and devise is in our blood. We have been defined as “the toolmaker.” It is our genius and ingenuity, our ability to think and to communicate, our desire to create, invent, make, build, explore, improve and advance that has made us lords of the realm. Our species’ survival now depends upon the technology we have fashioned, and yet the world we have made is devastating other forms of life and creating such hazardous conditions globally that we, too, may be in jeopardy in the foreseeable future.


My favorite Old Testament tale comes from Genesis — Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden — and not because of its creation story. But because of what it says about hubris, the tree of knowledge, the temptation to play God . . . and how that arrogance separates us from the garden, from God, from all with whom we share this amazing planet.


Despite my previous disinterest in tomorrow-land horizons and futuristic scenarios, this issue appraises several awesome yet ominous frontiers that we thought you should know about. They rouse the imagination, should give us pause.


Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.